PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Willie Williams, Philadelphia’s 1st African American Police Commissioner, has died after a long illness in Atlanta at the age of 72.

After a 24-year-career on the force, Williams was sworn in as the city’s top cop in June, 1988.

“He was a hero of mine, he was a true inspiration for me,” Police Commissioner Richard Ross stated.

Ross explained Williams rise to the top was even more remarkable considering the department he first joined in the 60’s offered virtually no career opportunities for African-American officers.

“You can attain greatness and that’s what he did,” explained Captain James Clark, commander of the department’s homicide unit and a lifelong friend of the Williams family.

“He was a great commissioner and a great man.”

The Commissioner’s son, Lt. Willie Williams commands the bodyguard detail for Mayor James Kenney.

The Mayor stated in a press release,”I am deeply saddened to learn of Willie Williams passing. He served this city with greatness, improving community police relations and breaking down barriers.”

Williams left in 1992 to lead the Los Angeles Police Department in the wake of the Rodney King riots.

“We saw in him that this is what we could attain if we did the job right and study hard,” Captain Clark added.

Ross credited Williams with introducing community policing to Philadelphia. He also emphasized that Williams helped open the door for future commissioners including his predecessor Charles Ramsey and himself.

“Without a Willie Williams, you might not have had a Chuck Ramsey or it might have been a long time coming,” Ross explained.

The Department has officially announced it will fly flags at half staff in remembrance. Funeral arrangements are not yet complete.