If you ask Richard Abney, life is a baseball game.
Abney, a captain with the Aiken Department of Public Safety, took his ball game to the next inning on Friday and retired after being with the department since 1975.
During a farewell lunch at Public Safety headquarters, more than 100 of Abney’s friends, family members and colleagues gathered to honor his service to the City of Aiken.
Many shared humorous stories and memories about Abney; others presented him with gifts or photos.
Retired Cpl. Sonny Ford recalled pulling a woman over on the bypass while on patrol with Abney one day.
“He wrote the lady a ticket, but the lady wouldn’t accept it,” Ford said, pausing to laugh and catch his breath. “He tried to give the lady the ticket and she said, ‘Nope, you’re not gonna write that ticket. I’m on the board with Chief Busbee. I know people in high places.’ And Richard said, ‘So did Richard Nixon.’”
Law enforcement, past and present, and from around the state came to honor Abney, who began his career in public safety as a cadet with the Aiken fire department in 1975.
“Everybody, look around for a second,” Chief Wendall Davis of the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety said to the room full of people. “Just look and see who’s here. That’s a testimony to Richard.”
Abney was a major force behind the department’s Police Athletic League, which develops teams in football, cheer leading, basketball and track for children ages 7 to high school.
His love for baseball came up throughout the presentation Friday, including when he was presented with four tickets to a New York Yankees game.
Abney thanked dozens of friends, colleagues and family members during the presentation, and reflected on key points in his career.
“I love those early days in the fire department on Park Avenue,” he said. “The best job anybody could ever have is being a cadet and getting to meet and work with new people every day. Like my brother Larry said, ‘They’re gonna pay me to do this? They’re gonna pay me to work with these people? Unbelievable.’
“These are memories. This is Public Safety that I’m talking about. This is a lifetime.”
After thanking his wife and family, Abney quoted late Yankees player Lou Gehrig: “I do consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” he said.
Abney was mentioned numerous times regarding the department’s accreditation. He came into the fire department shortly before it merged with the city’s police department to form Public Safety.
“It was an exciting time for the City of Aiken,” Abney said. “It was something they had talked about for decades – the new police-fire protection plan. It was exciting to see them pull the trigger.”
Pete Frommer, former director of Aiken Public Safety, has known Abney for 40 years.
“He was a great cadet, a great public safety officer, but where he really shined is where he got into the administrative part – training new officers and such,” Frommer said. “Even though he was management, people felt comfortable coming just for personal advice. Richard was like a mentor and somebody you could trust.”
“As the administrative captain and one of the senior leaders in this department, he’s had a role in hiring every officer who’s come to work here the past 18 to 20 years,” said Sgt. Jake Mahoney. “He meets with them personally. People come in off the street with an interest in public safety, they’re always directed toward Capt. Abney.”
Mahoney recalled coming in to Aiken Public Safety one day in November of 1993 before he became a volunteer firefighter.
“Richard not only took the time to sit down with me, but he gave me a tour of the department, made himself available to answer any questions and encouraged me to get involved with community service, period,” Mahoney said. “I think we all owe our jobs to him, at one point. He saw something in me that first day I came up here and encouraged me to become involved in other aspects in our community, to become a volunteer firefighter.”
For Abney, firefighting is a family tradition: two of his brothers became cadets with the Aiken fire department to pay for college, prompting him to do the same. Now, his son Joe is a cadet with Aiken Public Safety.
Abney said he’ll miss the “day-to-day” relationships most.
“It’s the people that you’re used to seeing every day walking the halls,” he said. “It’s a routine that you get into. You kind of take those people and those relationships for granted, and it’s something that we’ll all experience if you stay in the workforce for a long time. It will end, and it will be a transition for those relationships to change.”
Abney said spending time with his wife and children is at the top of his plans for retirement, but he’ll still be involved with the community.
“It’s something I’m comfortable doing and want to do. I can’t do anything else; it’s what I’ve done since I was a little boy,” he said. “When you’re 8 or 10 years old, you wake up and your mama runs you out of the house. What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to get up a ball game. So you ride the neighborhoods on your bicycle, and you go to those kids’ houses that you know, those relationships that you’ve had in school and you get up a ball game.
“Hey, I’m getting up a ball game,” he said. “I’ve been getting up ball games for 45 years, getting people together to do stuff. No arm twisting, just, ‘Come on, we’re gonna hit up a ball.’”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.