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Saturday, May 15, 2004

Bagpiper joins Lodi Police Honor Guard

He speaks five languages. He has two bachelors degrees, two masters degrees and a doctorate. He owns seven sets of bagpipes.

Raphael Pazo Jr., whose business card alone sparks intrigue with its multiple languages and list of services, recently joined the Lodi Police Honor Guard. He's the only bagpiping Honor Guard member in San Joaquin County, and there are only a handful throughout the state.

"It just adds so much to what we're trying to do -- to pay a level of respect to an individual," said Lodi police Sgt. Bill Barry, a member of the Honor Guard.

The Honor Guard pays tribute to officers killed in the line of duty and also attends various ceremonies, such as the opening of the new police building.

When the building opened, Pazo asked if the department was interested in having a bagpiper. They invited him to join the Honor Guard, and Pazo then went through the same background check that every police officer undergoes before joining the department, Police Chief Jerry Adams said.

"A bagpiper is just a really special thing to hear," Adams said.
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A man of many talents, Raphael Pazo is a new addition to the Lodi Police Department Honor Guard, bringing bagpiping to the honorary post. (photo by Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)
For Pazo, bagpiping is one of many hobbies he has pursued over the years. Born in Puerto Rico, he moved to San Francisco as a youth and began playing equestrian polo. It was at a match that he first heard the bagpipes.

"I asked the bagpiper to please let me try and he said, 'Oh this is a very difficult instrument; you'll never be able to play,'" Pazo recalled.

But he continued to beg, the bagpiper relented and within minutes, Pazo was making music. Two dozen years later, he is still playing.

Playing the bagpipes wasn't enough, though. Pazo began to study the history of the instrument, learning that they've been around for 5,300 years and play a part in the history of nearly every country in the world.

"I made it my quest to learn about different types of bagpipes, what the difference is and what influenced the bagpipes," he said.

Pazo, who also sings and plays the violin, flute, drums and brass instruments, took his bagpiping talents with him when he joined the U.S. Army, even playing when he was stationed in Israel.

During and after his military service, Pazo obtained bachelors degrees in biology and art, masters degrees in language arts and management, and a doctorate in international relations.

"I was trying to pursue a diplomatic career, but one thing led to another," he said.

He realized that he wouldn't like being away from his wife and four children, so Pazo went back to another career: funeral homes.

As a teenager, Pazo had worked in his uncle's casket factory after school and during summer vacations. His first college degree was an associate in embalming from a San Francisco mortuary school.

Pazo worked for a time as a deputy coroner in San Mateo County. When he wasn't doing coroner duties, he also lent his knowledge in ballistics and helped with disaster training.

Until recently, Pazo was employed as the director of Lodi Funeral Home, and he still thinks of the employees as family. He now works at a Stockton mortuary and is also helping manage a mortuary in Lafayette while it undergoes management changes.

In his spare time, he plays music. His whole family sings and plays music and between them, they have about 40 musical instruments in their home music room, Pazo said.

Possibly best known for his bagpiping, Pazo plays throughout the state and in Oregon, Washington and Nevada. He has also played for celebrities, he said, but contractual obligations prevent him from naming them.

And, when he's not doing that, he's offering his skills as an interpreter in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese.

The Lodi Police Honor Guard is another activity to add to his list, but for Pazo it is an honor.

"They are so serious -- so proud of their work. You can tell that they're dedicated," he said.
Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com Edit Text

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Music of Elegance and Distinction

by Dr. Raphael Pazo, Highland Bagpiper 


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