From the time he was a child, when his mother sat him down with a paper and pencil during an asthma attack, Charles Dee Rucker showed a gift for art.
Painting with oils, acrylics and watercolors, he evolved from still lifes and landscapes to people in their natural surroundings. In recent years, his evocative scenes of Caribbean and African natives defined a style he described as contemporary realism.
Mr. Rucker, a former police officer and educator who operated a Normal Heights gallery, died Oct. 29 at his home in Spring Valley. He was 72.
The cause of death was prostate cancer, which was diagnosed nearly five years ago, said his son, Clark.
"At an early age, I asked him why he liked to paint so much," his son said. "I expected him to say, 'To sell my work.' But his answer was, 'So that people can have a piece of me after I'm gone.' "
Although he sold widely, exhibiting his work in venues from the United States to Mexico and Japan, he gave many original paintings away. "Sometimes, he would trade his art for services from a collector," his son said.
Mr. Rucker enjoyed sharing his skills with children in art workshops, demonstrating the use of color and the fundamentals of design.
His contemporary realism, strongly influenced by such icons as Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh, found expression in scenes he adapted to the canvas from photographs he and his wife, Julia, took on their travels.
He began selling his art in the early 1960s and opened his first gallery in the 1980s in the Gaslamp Quarter. Eventually, he moved it to Market Street and in 1993 to Adams Avenue in Normal Heights.
Mr. Rucker, a native of Wasco, settled with his family in San Diego in 1941. After graduating from Kearny High School, he served four years in the Air Force, leaving as a staff sergeant.
With career aspirations in law enforcement and education, he earned associate of arts and associate of science degrees at San Diego City College and a bachelor's degree at San Diego State University. He added a teaching credential from UCLA in juvenile justice and criminology.
During 17 years in the San Diego Police Department, Mr. Rucker served as a composite artist and as a community relations assistant to the police chief. He retired in 1971 and taught courses in administration of justice for the next next 20 years at Southwestern College.
As an officer in 1959, Rucker was walking into the police station when he saw a violent man had walked into the lineup room, overpowered a police sergeant and took the officers weapon. With the sergeant on his knees, the man was about to execute him. Rucker quickly ran to a window and took a shot killing the gunman and saving the sergeant's life. Ironically, the sergeant Rucker saved was the Range Master at the time and had been after Rucker to requalify with his weapon. After the shooting Rucker was given a lifetime exemption. Rucker later refused a medal for the incident saying he took no joy in taking a mans life.
Mr. Rucker's earliest art lessons were from his mother, an artist who encouraged him to develop his skills. Later, while attending City College and SDSU, he took classes in art.
Survivors include his wife, Julia; son, Clark of Phillips Ranch; sister, Lola Jones of San Diego; brothers, Albert Rucker of San Diego and Caesar Rucker of Santa Cruz; and two grandchildren.