Retiring Houston County sheriff’s colonel recalls early days of career

bpurser@macon.comMarch 20, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Houston County sheriff’s Col. Rueben McGhee wanted to be a state trooper when he graduated high school in 1966. But he remembers being told the agency’s Perry office wasn’t hiring blacks.

McGhee said he was told he could apply at the Atlanta office and that he might be one of the “lucky ones” hired. But McGhee said he chose to return to helping his grandfather on the row-crop farm in Henderson where he was raised. He also worked part-time and later full-time as a supervisor at Sears.

But his original desire never faded, and the opening to make a career in law enforcement came at the behest of Cullen Talton. Talton, a county commissioner and farmer, was running for sheriff and looking for a few good men and women to join him if elected.

In fact, less than a handful of those employed by the previous sheriff kept their jobs when Talton and his team were sworn in a few minutes after midnight on Jan. 1, 1973.

McGhee was among them.

Now, the 66-year-old is retiring third in command after 40 years and three months working in the sheriff’s office. His retirement is effective March 29.

“I have enjoyed each and every moment of it,” said McGhee, who said he wants to spend time more time with family and friends. Skilled in carpentry, McGhee said he also wants to remodel his home in the Perry area.

Rising through the ranks

McGhee started as a deputy in patrol, where he served 19 years including serving as a shift supervisor and later as patrol commander.

He recalled a four-channel radio for communication when he began and typing his reports on one of two typewriters shared among the patrol deputies.

Today, deputies drive vehicles equipped with laptops linked to the Georgia Crime Information Center and other database. The vehicles also are mounted with cameras, and deputies remain in constant communication with the 800-megahertz 911 center.

McGhee said there have been numerous changes over the years, from the types of weapons carried to an increase in the number of employees in the sheriff’s office.

Early in his career, the Georgia State Patrol twice tried to lure him away from the sheriff’s office, McGhee said.

McGhee said Talton once told him: “If you stay with me, I promise you, you’ll have a future with me.”

The sheriff kept his word, McGhee said.

For McGhee, Talton is “like a father figure.”

“I’ve always had the highest level of respect for him,” McGhee said of the sheriff.

When asked about McGhee, Talton said, “losing Rueben is really one of the saddest days for me as sheriff.

“He’s been with me from the start,” Talton continued. “He’s one of most loyal and professional people you’ll ever know.”

A quality that sets McGhee apart is his ability to handle people, Talton said. “He’s mild-mannered, doesn’t get upset and keeps his cool.”

Talton said he considers McGhee not only a consummate professional but also a close friend.

“He’s like a member of the family,” Talton said.

McGhee and Chief Deputy Billy Rape, second in command, are the only two of the original law enforcement officers who began working in the sheriff’s office with Talton in 1973.

McGhee described Rape as being the kind of person you’d want to have as a brother. Likewise, Rape described McGhee as a close friend.

Rape also noted McGhee’s ability to work with and handle people as his chief attribute. Both Rape and Talton had nothing but praise for McGhee.

“I’m happy for him,” Rape said. “But I’m sad that his tenure is coming to an end.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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