RENEE ORDWAY

Veteran sheriff’s deputy reflects on policing ‘back in the day’

Posted Jan. 11, 2013, at 6:28 p.m.

Like most old timers who have lived interesting lives and had intriguing careers, Ronnie Green’s best stories can be told only in certain company and certainly not here on this page.

I’m sorry about that.

Because he has some good ones — and I know a lot of them — and many of you would enjoy them as much as I do. But they are his to tell in only certain select venues — primarily to those unconcerned with political correctness and certainly only where humor takes precedence above all else.

One must be able to consider the decade within which the stories occurred and have a level of appreciation for the type of “spots” that police officers found themselves in “back in the day” when the rules for everyone, including police officers, were just a bit different than today.

I have not done an official poll, but I’m guessing Ronnie Green may just be the oldest working law enforcement officer in the state.

At the end of this month, at the age of 72, he plans to retire after serving with Penobscot County for 42 years as a deputy and supervisor with the sheriff’s department and an investigator with the district attorney’s office.

He started what would turn out to be his lifelong career in 1965, as it so happens, in a bar in Newport where he stopped to have a beer or two after having lost the fuel pump on his truck while hauling a load of pulpwood over to Rumford.

It had been a bad day.

He was in his mid-20s and doing what he could to make a living. He hauled pulpwood in the winter, helped build Interstate 95 with H.E. Sargent in the summer, hauled milk and painted barns.

On this particular day in 1965 as he sipped a beer or two, another patron mentioned that Newport Police Chief Howard Seavey had just fired his only police officer.

“He said maybe I should apply and I thought it might not be a bad idea and so I headed on over to the police station,” Green recalled this week with a chuckle.

He was hired on the spot and started a day or two later.

“Howard took me for a ride through town, up Route 2, down the Stetson Road, across the Durham Bridge Road and eventually back to Route 7 and back into town. When we got back to the police station he said, ‘Everything inside that circle is ours to take care of.’”

“That was my training. He foraged around and scrounged up a couple of pair of pants and a hat and a gun, and that was that. I was on the job,” he said.

On Oct. 21, 1971, Penobscot County Sheriff Otis LaBree hired him as one of the county’s first two full-time deputies.

“We were called clerks and we were paid $12 a day,” Green said.

Forty-some years is a long time in any career, let alone law enforcement. So I asked him, “Were their times you considered getting out?”

A few.

Once was in the late 1980s or early 1990s when he responded to an accident on Route 2 in Hermon. A 16-year-old boy had been driving his family’s Dodge Caravan. The family was from Nova Scotia and they were going skiing for the week. The boy’s mother was in the front seat.

On a notoriously bad hill between Hermon and Carmel the boy lost control on black ice and was T-boned by a three-quarter-ton plow truck. The mother was dead and the little brother in the back seat was dead. The 16-year-old driver was only injured but so distraught they had to send him in an ambulance so they could control the scene.

“The wreckers came, the medical examiner came and the hearses came. Eventually we got to the point where we separated those vehicles. As we stood there and watched and as that wrecker pulled that plow truck from the wreckage there, beneath it was the most beautiful little girl you ever saw.

“She was six years old. All that time she was there and we didn’t know it. I came back here and just bawled. I thought, ‘That’s it. I can’t do this anymore.’’’

Green spent the next two days at the hospital befriending the teen driver and convincing him that the accident was not his fault.

“It seemed all I could do and it was the God’s truth. That boy did nothing wrong. It was not driver inexperience, he was not speeding. It was black ice and bad timing and all I felt I could do was try to help him realize that,” Green said.

In a nearly 50-year career that was the first story he told.

On the desk in his office — he’s been in 12 different ones between the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department and jail and the former Penobscot County Courthouse — sits a miniature John Deere tractor. The wheel of the tractor is a clock that no longer keeps time. A two-year-old Farmer’s Almanac also sits on the desk.

He is completely oblivious that his Farmer’s Almanac is outdated or that his clock no longer keeps time.

Green grew up on a farm and, along with his wife Carol, still farms as a hobby.

As he told me stories this week he talked of “whistling for LaGrange” to a homicide scene (that means he went very fast) and he said his former colleague Mike Harrington was as “tough as a boiled owl” (which means he wasn’t an emotional sort.)

We talked some of the amazing technological changes that have transformed our lives and law enforcement, but you all know that already.

And he teared up, this man who kept saying, “I’m not a touchy feely sort of guy.”

Perhaps, in the end, my friend, you are.

And perhaps, that is why you’ve lasted, uncontested, since 1965.

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