January 5, 2018
The calm colonel retires from sheriff’s office
“I’ve been very fortunate, working with five different sheriffs,” Lt. Col. Robert Wilcox.
I’ve never seen Robert get really angry or upset. He might have been, but on the outside, you wouldn’t know it.
— 1st Sgt. Eddie Wines, 44-year veteran
• Age: 54
• Home: Near Warrenton
• Work: Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office colonel, retired Jan. 5 after 34-1/2 years; started as a dispatcher.
• Education: Fauquier High School, 1982; various law enforcement academies.
• Family: Wife of 32 years, Tonya Wilcox, Fauquier County treasurer; daughters Devyn and Jessica.
• Hobbies: Hunting, fishing, kayaking.
He has a face made for poker — or law enforcement.
Fauquier sheriff’s Lt. Col. Robert Wilcox, who retired Jan. 5 as the agency’s chief deputy, presents a calm, even stoic façade.
“He’s hard to read,” said Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Wines, the office’s most experienced deputy, on the job since 1974. “Some guys might not know if he liked you or not. He’d always say, ‘Hello,’ or wave, but he might keep walking . . . .
“I’ve never seen Robert get really angry or upset,” Sgt. Wines added. “He might have been, but on the outside, you wouldn’t know it . . . . And, if he has to take care of problem, he’ll say it in a professional manner.”
Col. Wilcox, 54, joined the sheriff’s office as a dispatcher on June 1, 1983, a year after graduating from Fauquier High School. The New Baltimore native — “an average kid,” as he described himself — had worked at Smith Equipment, a tractor and farm implement dealership just south of Warrenton.
“My old friend Chuck Murray (a deputy later killed on duty in a car accident) had stopped by Smith Equipment to tell me about the opening,” Col. Wilcox recalled. “That’s how it got started.”
He went to work for Sheriff Luther Cox, a tough man who spent a lot of time on his farm during a simpler era in local law enforcement.
“He told me to get a haircut,” Col. Wilcox recalled of his first meeting with the crusty sheriff.
After about 10 months, he earned a promotion to jailer and then about two years later to patrol deputy.
Ashby Olinger had defeated Sheriff Cox in the 1983 Democratic primary and had won the office that November. A few years later, the new sheriff promoted Col. Wilcox to detective at age 22.
“Robert was a really good road deputy and then a good investigator,” Sgt. Wines recalled. “When he answered a call, he listened carefully and knew how to talk with people.”
Over the years, he worked lots of difficult cases, including one in the early 1990s, when he discovered the naked body of a teenage girl, chained to a Southern Fauquier fence post where the victim’s cousin had raped and murdered her.
Over the years, Deputy Wilcox remained steady and reliable. He soaked up training, including management courses, and climbed the sheriff’s office ladder to lieutenant and then to captain.
He survived four elections that resulted in new bosses, each with total authority to hire and fire.
“I’ve been very fortunate, working with five different sheriffs,” Col. Wilcox said in a recent interview.
Bob Mosier’s defeat of county native Charlie Ray Fox Jr. in the November 2015 election again raised uncertainty about job security in the sheriff’s office with 170 employees. Sheriff Mosier had worked in the department before leaving for law enforcement-related contracting jobs that took him around the world.
Many figured the new sheriff would bring in a chief deputy from the outside when he took office two years ago. But, he tapped the 32-year veteran.
“I don’t think anyone knew what to expect,” Sheriff Mosier said. “But, I had worked with Robert in the ’90s. I knew him to be solid, reliable, professional. He knew the office well and had great experience.”
Sgt. Wines called it “a great move, because Robert knew the office inside and out — patrol, civil process, criminal investigations. He knew everybody, and people felt they could tell Robert things that he could take to the sheriff.”
For his part, Col. Wilcox said, “I never set out to be a supervisor. All I wanted to be was a detective.”
Repeatedly he says of his career, “I’d rather be lucky than good.”
He admitted, however, that the uncertainty of politics — the regular possibility of losing his job after an election — wore on him.
Col. Wilcox told the new sheriff he would stay a couple of years.
“Everything’s good, and I wanted to leave on my own terms . . . . I just wanted to leave on top of my game. Sometimes, people don’t get the signal that it’s time to go. I didn’t want that to be me.
“We probably have the smartest and best educated people since I’ve been here. Expectations have risen.”
The colonel told Sheriff Mosier in the fall of this plan to retire.
But, a firewood cutting accident in March 2016 also made him more introspective, Col. Wilcox said. As he cut down a tree, its top got caught in another one. While he worked to free it, a large branch broke, fell and struck him.
A medical helicopter flew him to the trauma center at Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he received treatment for three broken vertebrae and a serious concussion. He missed months of work.
But, he came back strongly. And his wife Tanya said his extraordinary memory never faltered.
She, however, put in place a new rule: No firewood cutting without her presence.
Atop a bookcase in his modest office sat an orange logger’s helmet, signed by fellow cops.
“You can’t take life for granted,” he said recently, talking about the accident.
Much has changed in his 34 years with the sheriff’s office. Fauquier traffic has grown more intense, opioid overdoses have become common and technology dramatically has changed crime and crime fighting.
In recent years, law enforcement officers across the nation have faced greater violence and in many cases intense criticism — even hatred.
But, Col. Wilcox quickly added: “Not here.” Citizens in Fauquier generally demonstrate strong support and appreciation for law enforcement.
“I’ve got nothing negative to say about anybody I’ve worked with . . . . I’ve had lots of opportunities, and I’ve tried to listen more than I talk and to learn from experience.”
As for his future, he claimed to remain unsure. He’ll have more time to hunt, fish, float the Rappahannock River and cut firewood, as long as his wife of almost 32 years supervises.
“He’s committing to nothing” in terms of professional opportunities, said Mrs. Wilcox, who has known him since their days as students at Warrenton Junior High School.
What about that calm exterior?
“He’s pretty much like that,” she said. “It takes a lot to ruffle his feathers. It’s a good offset for me; he’s my calming influence.”
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Jim Gearing · January 8, 2018 at 7:27 pm
Congratulation's Robert, you deserve it! Now take some time and enjoy the outdoors like we use to do as kids! Proud to have grown up with Robert we covered a lot of ground together...
Ps. Stay out of Tanya's hair or she may just make you go find another job!!!
Jim Gearing Jr.
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