It was like a bell went off one day and Maj. Gene Johnson just knew it was time to retire from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office after 49 years.
“My health is great,” said Johnson, 70. “So while it’s good I want to go and do a few things.”
So far, those things consist of fishing trips, his wife’s honey-do list and spoiling his 3-year-old granddaughter.
“We’re just going to take it one day at a time for now,” said his wife Elaine, who is clerk of Superior Court. “He’s on his way to work at 7 every morning so he’ll need to get used to this new life.”
Today marks Johnson’s last day at a job he’s had since he was 21.
He always knew he wanted to be go into law enforcement since his days as a child playing with his revenue agent uncle’s siren. In 1965 he got the opportunity, starting at the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s record bureau. Seven months later he moved to road patrol, where he stayed until 1971. He rose to captain in the criminal investigation division and later served as captain over the records bureau and internal affairs. In 1984 under then-Sheriff Charlie Webster, Johnson moved to the jail where he has worked the past 30 years.
“I’ve worked for eight sheriffs and one county police,” Johnson said.
His 49 years are full of stories - from the time he helped deliver a baby as a deputy to working five homicides in one Halloween night and then a hostage situation in 1983 at Augusta National Golf Club while President Ronald Reagan was visiting.
“That was a harrowing experience,” Johnson said of the 1983 incident.
He recalls lying on the floor with Secret Service agents, talking to the suspect, Charlie Harris, who was attempting to negotiate another bottle of tequila from the police.
“People tell me I should write a book,” he said.
Out of all of his time at the sheriff’s office, Johnson said he enjoyed criminal investigation most.
While working there he was partnered with Gene Staulcup, who is now a private investigator at Gene Staulcup & Associates. Off the bat, Staulcup said he was impressed by Johnson’s knowledge and skills in the field as the two worked several high-profile cases together in the 1970s. Staulcup said he learned many things from the man who he called “a good role model and a good investigator.”
The men remained close and often vacation together with their families.
“Forty-nine years,” Staulcup said this week of Johnson’s impending retirement. “That speaks volumes for a person that will stay in one career for that long.”
Being involved in the evolution of the Charles B. Webster Detention Center on Phinizy Road is one of the things Johnson said he is most proud of in his career. He walked through the halls pointing out the facility’s latest technological advances with a proud smile on his face.
“I’ve watched the jail grow from the stone age to the 21st century,” he said.
“The everyday hustle and bustle of dealing with inmates” is one thing he doesn’t imagine he’ll miss though. The friends he’s made over the last nearly 50 years, however, is a different story.
“He’s worked hard and it’s bittersweet with him leaving his friends, but he’s ready to spend time with his family,” Elaine Johnson said.
She said her husband also did a good job of balancing work and home life.
Then there’s just the question of what to do with the memories and items from his 49 years that have filled numerous boxes.
“I’ve been wondering where we’re going to put everything,” Elaine Johnson said. “We might have to build another room. He’s collected so many things over the years.”