James Cadien was a fixture in the Port Royal Police Department for as long as Mayor Sam Murray can remember.
"I watched him move up through the ranks of the department," Murray said, "and continue to serve the town and this community so well."
Cadien, 62, died after suffering two heart attacks Wednesday night at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, police officials say, leaving Murray and others in Port Royal without the man who led the town's force for more than 15 years.
The Beaufort County Coroner's Office would not provide a cause of death Thursday, saying it does not release such information in deaths determined to be natural, said deputy coroner David Ott.
"It's kind of devastating to know he's no longer with us," Murray said.
Cadien joined the department in 1974, left briefly in 1979 and returned in 1981, according to town manager Van Willis.
Willis said Cadien was named chief in 1998.
"His death was truly unexpected," Willis said. "Chief Cadien was a humble man and will be sorely missed. He was an appropriate reflection of Port Royal, and he served the town well."
Willis said he plans to name an interim police chief next week.
During his career, Cadien was honored several times by town officials, including in 1999 for his role in helping save two Port Royal police officers who had been shot by Jeff Clements, who later died after setting his home on fire and shooting himself.
Officials said Cadien backed his car into the line of fire so an officer who had been shot in the arm and abdomen could be pulled into a nearby ambulance. Both officers survived.
Port Royal police Capt. Alan Beach said the incident was just one example of Cadien leading by example.
"He was a great man to work for and a great chief," Beach said. "He was very family-oriented, and he really loved this community."
Cadien also helped promote teamwork between Port Royal and other Beaufort-area law enforcement agencies, Beaufort police Chief Matt Clancy said.
"He was very easy to get along with, and our departments work well together in large part due to the spirit of cooperation that he maintained," Clancy said. "Jim was a well-respected law enforcement professional. His presence and influence will be missed."
Funeral arrangements for Cadien had not yet been made Thursday, according to Anderson Funeral Home.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.