Kenneth R. Rocks Sr., 65, an Army paratrooper and Philadelphia city patrolman who rose to become a vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, died Saturday, Nov. 21, of lung cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
A longtime Philadelphian, he had retired to Lewes, Del., in 2010.
"The world lost a great man yesterday," a niece, Claire Rocks, wrote on Facebook. "Protect and serve: It was not just a job, it was a way of being. This wasn't just for his family but also for the rest of the country, as he served in the Vietnam War, and as a Philadelphia police officer and FOP leader."
Born into a family of 10 children in Logan, Mr. Rocks earned his GED from Cardinal Dougherty High School, according to his Facebook page, which was flooded with tributes as word of his death circulated.
Mr. Rocks served Philadelphia for 39 years, beginning in 1971 as a patrolman and ending with his retirement as an FOP labor-relations official in October 2010.
He was best known, though, for stepping forward to lead Lodge 5 in 1993, when a faction of the police union became disenchanted with then-president John Shaw and moved for his ouster.
Over protest from Shaw, Mr. Rocks was elected interim president. Mr. Rocks and his supporters, barred entrance to the FOP headquarters by a judge, met in the parking lot to conduct business.
"He was the parking-lot president for two days," said longtime FOP lawyer Thomas W. Jennings. "Two days later, he was removed by a judge, but he had the courage to come forward."
Shaw was under fire for negotiating a contract with the city deemed unfavorable to the rank and file, and alleged financial improprieties.
In 1995, Shaw was convicted under the RICO statute for using his office to obtain bribes and kickbacks, and he served time in federal prison. Michael G. Lutz replaced Shaw as permanent president.
Rich Costello, Lodge 5 president starting in 1984, said Mr. Rocks' most last legacy was transforming what had been a social organization in the 1980s into a fully functioning labor organization.
Over the years, Mr. Rocks served as FOP legislative representative with the local unit and as a vice president until 2005, and he also held leadership roles with the national FOP.
During this time, Mr. Rocks received a certificate of completion from the Comey Institute of Industrial Relations, affiliated with St. Joseph University. He knew the bargaining process cold, had a keen memory for past negotiations, and was unafraid to intervene in heated situations.
Jennings, who knew Mr. Rocks for 25 years, said he was never afraid to speak his mind.
"You had to get by the gruff exterior to see what the man was like. He was extremely bright and extremely clever," Jennings said.
In August 1967, at 17, Mr. Rocks joined the Army. He served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 as a paratrooper, a member of the 173d Airborne Brigade. He was honorably discharged in 1970 with the rank of sergeant.
Back in Philadelphia, he graduated from the Police Academy in 1971. He married Mary Anne Walsh in 1973, and the couple had two children.
Mr. Rocks was appointed chairman of the board of directors of Federal Prison Industries by President George W. Bush, and served from 2002 until 2007. The board oversees prison factories.
In retirement, Mr. Rocks and his wife traveled the world.
In addition to his wife and brother, Jimmy, he is survived by son Kenneth Jr.; daughter Elizabeth; three grandchildren; four brothers; and four sisters.
A viewing is to be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27, and from 8:15 to 9:15 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 28, both at John F. Givnish Funeral Home, 10975 Academy Rd. A 10 a.m. Funeral Mass is to follow Saturday at the Church of St. Anselm, 12670 Dunks Ferry Rd. Interment is private.
Contributions may be made to the FOP Survivor's Fund, 11630 Caroline Rd., Philadelphia 19154.