On Maricopa County sheriff's Deputy Roy Cook's last day on duty, a colleague said of him, "Too bad. He was just starting to figure out the job."
Yeah, after 44 years as a lawman, which apparently makes Deputy Cook the longest tenured of any Maricopa County employee on record.
Having been assigned to the county court complex for about a quarter-century to provide security, the guy who wore badge number 115 was about to call it quits at age 67.
Cook stood in the lobby of the Central Court building on East Jefferson Street in downtown Phoenix. Being the week after Christmas meant that foot traffic was slow, "a yawner," he called it.
But work is work, and Cook was determined to make his last day as normal as possible before retiring to a life of ski trips and hanging out with friends.
These were unusual times, he conceded, what with his publicity-hound boss, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the current county attorney, Andrew Thomas, conducting a political blitzkrieg against the local judiciary — a branch of government that Cook has come to deeply respect.
But Cook didn't want to talk much about Arpaio, brushing off questions with a wry smile and a tellingly slow, sad shake of the head.
"You think Joe Arpaio is powerful?" he finally allowed. "You should have been around here when I started."
That would have been March 1967, a month before Jimi Hendrix torched his guitar for the first time on stage, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of Vietnam War protesters down State Street in Chicago.
Cook, who was 23 at the time, didn't know from Hendrix and King. He was a self-described "pretty simple kid" who had graduated from Phoenix Union High School in 1960 and was working construction when police work became a possibility.
Cook grew up near 16th Street and Camelback, which was then open desert and where his father ran a gas station.
He was a young man who liked, he says with a grin that suggests understatement, "to have a real good time."
"But I wanted a permanent job, and it was sitting right there," Cook says. "It was different then. No police academy, no polygraphs, just a little background check, a physical check, an oral board, and off to work you went."
Deputies at the time worked at the pleasure of powerful Sheriff Luther "Cal" Boies, who swayed many an election by using employees as campaign workers during his tenure from 1946-68.
"I had never voted in my life, and there I was out there registering voters," Cook says. "I remember asking, 'What am I?' [The answer was] 'You're a Democrat, son.' [His answer] 'Yes, sir.'"
Part of his unwritten job description was to put up campaign signs for selected candidates, knock on doors in uniform (a decidedly cowboy look back then), and collect signatures from local residents.
It wasn't just Sheriff Boies — who had to run for re-election every two years — for whom Cook hustled political support.
"We had to canvass for judges, too, as long as they were Democrats," he recalls. "It wasn't exactly police work, but whatever."
Phoenix police asked the MCSO during Cook's first year as a deputy to assist in quelling growing racial tensions in neighborhoods near Van Buren Street east of downtown.
Cook says he and other deputies were ordered to march through the streets in a show of force: "They put us rookies in the front, and the sheriff told us, 'If it gets down to it, we want only one story — yours.' In other words, shoot 'em dead. I was scared shitless, but we all made it."
MCSO deputies ran the county jail, downtown on First Avenue. New officers could be stuck there for years because deputies out on the road usually stayed there until retirement.
"I could have gone out to Gila Bend, but no one wanted to work that far away," Cook says. "So I stayed at the jail for quite awhile. I think I was the only one of my original group [of deputies] to make it even 10 years."
Then, as now, working corrections could be fraught with peril, and a manic inmate once stabbed Cook in the eye with a pencil.
"There was blood everywhere, almost lost the eye," Cook says. "The other deputy kicked the shit out of the guy, who wound up in court a few days later and wanted to show the judge his bruises. Didn't work out so well for him. I was back on the job real quick. That's how it went back then."
Cook was something of a rebel at times. His supervisor ordered him to the graveyard shift for a stretch for refusing to trim his long, thick mustache. But the deputy held his ground.
Cook finally got an opportunity at regular patrol duty after several years. His stint began — almost literally — with a bang.
"We got into a high-speed pursuit," Cook says. "It was my very first hour on patrol. We are alongside the car, and my sergeant is yelling at me on the radio, 'Take him out! Shoot him!' I've got my gun stuck out of my window, but I'm not about to shoot. I mean, come on. Eventually, the guy pulls over and surrenders without a problem.
"Everyone knew [the runaway driver]. He owned a restaurant where the deputies would go eat and have coffee for free. He just had minor charges against him. I told the guys, 'If I would have killed him, where were you all gonna go and eat?"
The MCSO later assigned Cook to the courthouse, where he provided security for many of the county's most momentous cases, including the fraud and perjury trial of Arizona Governor Evan Mecham and Mecham's brother Willard.
He became close with many judges — including Ron Reinstein, Mike Ryan (now an Arizona Supreme Court justice), and the late Mike O'Melia. But the affable deputy didn't play favorites, chatting up prosecutors, defense attorneys, court personnel, and familiar members of the news media.
And as the hours slipped away on Roy Cook's last day, Judge Penny Gaines, another of the deputy's favorites, happened to pass through the lobby.
"This is a momentous day in our county's history," Judge Gaines said, as Cook stood there smiling. "Roy has been a court institution for years, and some of us know him to be a gourmet and food critic. He is absolutely reliable and wonderful. This courthouse will never be the same."
Cook took the elevator up to an office he shared with his fellow deputies. He already had moved most of his stuff out, but his roll-top desk (a present long ago from a judge) still was there.
Cook was just a few hours from the end of his last shift. He told more war stories, enjoying the gentle ribbing of his colleagues.
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That's when Deputy Bob Kissler came up with the droll comment about Roy Cook's retiring just as he's figuring out what the job is all about.
The line stuck with Cook.
"What this job has been all about," he said a few minutes later back down in the lobby, "is being nice to people unless they make it so you can't be nice to them. Luckily, most people have been nice — even the bad guys."