Most of the kids who grew up in the Garden Oaks area on the Northside never wanted to get into serious trouble beyond the typical innocent mischief of the 1950s.
Well, let’s take that back. Because of the seemingly constant presence of one giant of a Houston cop they avoided any action that might provoke a confrontation with the giant in the blue uniform.
A Gentle Giant
Officially he was known as Officer Walter C. Romund but unofficially he went by the everlasting and extremely appropriate nickname of “Tiny.”
Tiny Romund stood 6-foot-8 and weighed in excess of 300 pounds. We was then – and now – the biggest Houston police officer in history. Granted, if alive today he would feel at home amongst the interior linemen on the Houston Texans roster. There would be just one problem – under his gigantic image, Tiny was a teddy bear.
Now then, the real criminals on his watch didn’t mess with him. The kids on his watch in his extra job were sufficiently intimated and were encouraged in a positive way to stay on a straight and narrow path. They didn’t want to have to answer to the giant in the police uniform.
Roger Synott, a Houston area antique dealer, grew up in Garden Oaks attending the Saturday double features shown at the theater of the same name. This was back when individual theaters were usually identified with the neighborhoods which fed a steady stream of kiddie viewers, especially on Saturdays.
Synott’s memories are vivid. He recalled:
“The first time I ever saw Tiny was at the Garden Oaks Theater. I didn’t know it at the time that it was an extra job for him. He was in the lobby when I walked in and learned his name was Tiny. We called him Mr. Tiny and we all gravitated toward him every Saturday and said, ‘Hi, Mr. Tiny.’
“He was just somebody that was bigger than life. He was so nice. He never raised his voice. At the time we thought his daughter was the cashier. But I read somewhere that he never had kids.
“If you grew up on the north side of Houston you knew who Tiny was. We never knew his last name. We knew him as Mr. Tiny – a policeman the kids idolized.”
Synott’s idolizing extends through to this day. In fact, your Badge & Gun editor purchased the enclosed photo of Officer Romund from Synott at his antique booth at Spring Antique Mall.
The dealer in Houston nostalgia doesn’t rank as the only grown-up admirer of Tiny.
Another, Wayne Sikes, once said, “If you grew up in Garden Oaks or Oak Forest in the ’50s you knew Tiny. He is to this day still somewhat legendary with older members of law enforcement who started their careers in Houston PD. Looking back, us kids were afraid of him in the sense that we did not want to raise his ire by doing something wrong that he would catch us at, but from what I have heard over the years he was a pussycat when it came to a love of kids and helping keep them out of trouble.”
Biggest HPD Officer
Another man from the same era – an Internet blogger – once told an interviewer, “Tiny was kind of an ambassador all around Houston. He went to the schools to represent the police department, showed up at many functions and was always at the rodeo, circus and other stuff at the Coliseum. He was a big, big guy and was a hero to many.”
Tiny’s size, disposition and effectiveness lent themselves to regular newspaper articles, many of which served as deterrents. One case in point in the early 1950s was the account of a 48-Inch thief, all of nine years old, who happened to be caught and detained by Tiny, described in this particular Post article as “the beloved Officer Walter C. ‘Tiny’ Romund.”
Records in the Houston Police Museum also stress the fact that Tiny was anything but a hero to the real lawbreakers. Tiny’s patrol car was specially equipped to handle his extraordinary size. It included a special front seat with heavy duty shocks and springs.
HPD historian Denny Hair, the founding director of the HPD Museum, quoted from an article that once appeared in The Houston Post:
“He was the largest man to ever wear a Houston police officer’s badge and uniform. His exploits would become legendary and he was one of the jolliest and beloved officers.
“His size did not slow him down and he was said to have immense strength. He was provided a special car so the seat could be pushed back almost to the back seat. It was equipped with special shocks.
“His hands were said to be the size of ham hocks and he was capable of lifting a grown man off his feet with one hand. He was also very quick both on his feet and in a fight, though few crooks wanted to fight with him.
“He collapsed of a heart attack while attending another officer’s funeral many years after this newspapers article. He was one of l Houston’s most popular officers and all of Houston citizens and officers alike mourned his death.”
Tiny was a Harris County native who regarded his service as a Houston police officer as his life’s calling. Overall, he served HPD for more 30 years. He stood tall and stayed that way. Even at the time of his death he was 6-foot-8 and at least 300 pounds.
Again, by Hair’s account:
“That imposing figure put fear in the heart of one criminal who happened to cross his path in 1951. In May of that year, three men escaped from the Wynne State Prison Farm in Huntsville. One was captured not too far away from the prison farm, but two others — including Billy Gene Burden, serving time for burglary — made their way to north Houston before being captured.”
Burden got his picture in the paper, too – under the shadow of the HPD officer who captured him, Tiny Romund.