As Richmond Hill’s fire chief, Vernon Rushing rarely had trouble speaking his mind. Thursday, for a brief moment, he did.
After thanking those who did the work to put together a retirement luncheon for him at the John W. Stevens Wetlands Education Center in J.F. Gregory Park, Rushing began to speak.
He managed, “the attendance of all my old friends has really blessed me today” before tears began to flow.
The longtime firefighter regained his composure with the help of his wife, Gail, and carried on.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t do this (get emotional),” he said. “This is what happens to you when you get old.”
Rushing, 64, retires this month after a career as a firefighter with the city that began in 1968, just six years after Richmond Hill was incorporated and the department was still all-volunteer.
Rushing helped shepherd the agency along under veteran chief Herbert Schwabe and then took over in 1997 when Schwabe passed away.
Under Rushing’s watch, the department grew with the city, expanding to its present size of nine full-time firefighters and 20 volunteers with three engine companies, a ladder company and rescue and support units.
Rushing’s retirement announcement came at a City Council meeting in September, months after he was put on paid leave in June by city officials, who never explained their action.
But after his announcement, Rushing alluded to the reason for his leaving the city.
“I’m an old-style person … my ways aren’t the ways that suit the other parts of the city, so I think it’s time to get out and let some new blood get in,” he said in September.
That breakup seemed just a memory Thursday, as several current and former city officials and a number of friends spoke glowingly of Rushing.
Among them were Mayor Harold Fowler, former mayor Richard Davis and Police Chief Billy Reynolds. City Clerk Ursula Lee told Rushing he was loved even when there were disagreements.
“Speaking on behalf of City Hall, we appreciate having the honor just to know you,” she said. “We always had a good relationship, like family. We don’t always get along together, but just like family we kiss and make up. We appreciate everything you did … We love you and enjoy your retirement.”
Rushing’s daughter, Angie Thatcher, got a little emotional as well.
“To me, he’s a lot more than the chief that will always be the chief. (He’s) senior master sergeant, deputy sheriff, pretty good farmer, pretty good fisherman, OK golfer, sometimes, and master fix-it-all,” she said. “He’s very hard working, and all of our lives he has been loyal.”
Read more in the Nov. 16 edition of the News.