WISE — Ronnie Oakes is enjoying his 80th birthday and retirement, but he also enjoys pride in the final 24 years of his law enforcement career.
“I’ve gotten more than 200 birthday cards in the past few days,” Oakes said on Thursday during a lunchtime visit to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. “So many people have wished me well. I went to the post office to check my mailbox, but they handed me a box full of cards at the front desk.”
Oakes — the longest serving Wise County Sheriff — was elected in 1995 and retired in 2019 after the second act of a two-phase law enforcement career. During his first 27 years, as a Virginia State Trooper in Wise County and Norton, he was shot during a traffic stop in 1972.
“I was in intensive care for a while,” Oakes said. “When the State Police doctor examined me, he said I was good to go back on duty and I did.”
After retirement, Oakes decided to run for sheriff, and voters chose him for six terms before he decided to retire.
“I was lucky to hire some good deputies,” said Oakes. “We earned full state accreditation during my first term, and we started several programs that have helped the community.”
One of those deputies, Grant Kilgore, became chief deputy under Oakes and succeeded him in 2020 as sheriff. Another deputy, Lt. Teresa Meade, continues on duty today. Oakes credited them, current Chief Deputy Russ Cyphers and several other deputies and dispatchers with continuing the professionalism and training he worked to instill in the department.
Oakes said he was proud of how well the department has worked with several Circuit and General District judges, Commonwealth’s Attorneys and other county constitutional officers over the past three decades. Relationships with local police departments also strengthened, and he said the department has cooperated well with state and federal law enforcement.
Oakes said programs like Good Morning Wise County have helped maintain connections with the county’s seniors by deputies checking on them and helping with needs like food, fuel or water. Project Lifesaver has helped locate people affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s who may have wandered away from their homes.
The department updated its 911 systems and equipment during Oakes’ term, he said, and established a tactical team and negotiators. The department also responded to state- mandated courthouse security procedures and has maintained those standards, he added.
Oakes credited Kilgore with continuing those programs and with maintaining connections with the community.
“We always tried to make sure people could come to us with complaints, concerns and compliments,” Oakes said. “You have to be open and responsible to the people.”
In front of the Sheriff’s Department’s Justice Center, a brick and marble marker honoring Oakes has stood since his retirement.
“We had to sneak it past him,” Kilgore said, laughing with Oakes. “He kept asking what it was and we tried not to tell him.”
Asked how retirement was going, Oakes said he is still working full-time.
“We take care of our grandson, and he’s a handful” Oakes said with a laugh. “I still get out and walk, and people still say hi and wish me well.”