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After 35 years, ‘Moose’ retires

When Clarence W. “Moose” Dobson first took office as sheriff  35 years ago, he promised King George County citizens “24-hour full-time” professional law enforcement activity.  And he was determined to carry out his pledge despite the fact there weren’t enough full-time officers besides himself at the time to carry out the task.
“When I took office in 1976 there were only three full-time deputies,” he remembered.  “The sheriff’s department was mostly an 8 till 4 operation before then, so if you needed to call for a deputy, you had to call the scales at the weigh station or from the book until you got someone, because we didn’t have a uniformed deputy after working hours. Still, I promised the people a 24-hour sheriff’s department when I ran for office. But when the three deputies met me at the door, I realized that we would need four people for a 24-hour operation.  So we established a six-days-on and two-days-off shift beginning on Jan. 1, 1976, with myself on duty along with the other three.”

From such austere beginnings, Dobson can now look back on a stellar record of accomplishment that includes:
• Management of 59 other law enforcement personnel, 35 of them uniformed deputies.
• The establishment of a 24-hour dispatch and 911 call system as well as a state-of-the-art radio dispatch network.
• A professional regional investigation agency established with adjoining Northern Neck counties that mutually assists with crime prevention and case solving.
• A Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) unit and a dive team for marine and water borne investigations.
• Membership in a regional jail board located in Fredericksburg that can house up to 1,400 arrested individuals serving sentences.
• One of the prime movers and shakers for the establishment of the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy to professionally train all new members of the King George County Sheriff’s Dept. as well as refresh the training of current ones. (Every county deputy is required to successfully complete 18 weeks of basic instruction at the academy.)
• Ensuring that King George gets value for its tax dollars in law enforcement budgetary concerns and the establishment of a competitive pay and benefits system that includes retirement plans for county law enforcement personnel.
• And the current construction of a new sheriff’s department facility now going up on Rt. 3 which will encompass every aspect of a crime-fighting organization.
Ordinarily, any sheriff would righty beam broadly about the legacy and the huge shoes he leaves behind to fill.  But Dobson is in no way ordinary.  And his pride, he says, is in the people behind him.
“I suppose people tend to credit those at the top of the heap but, believe me, I’ve had a lot of good help along the way.  All of this has been a total team effort,” he insisted.
Another way Dobson defies the ordinary label is his personal story of perseverance when it comes to challenges that life often throws.
Six years ago Dobson’s dominant right hand was completely severed by a wood splitter.
“I carried it to the hospital in a bucket,” he said.
While most people who suffered such a traumatic experience would perhaps be satisfied with just a cosmetic reattachment, Dobson was driven to get his reattached extremity back into working order.  So, today, he’s ambidextrous.  He can full write legibly with either his left or right hand though he has primarily become a southpaw when it comes to drawing his weapon.
“My right hand is not fully functional yet … I can handle large objects and write with it, but I don’t have the sensitivity of hot and cold and really small objects,” he said.  “I wear my weapon on my left side now though.  It wasn’t too hard because I was kind of a left handed to begin with … I always shot long guns with my left hand because my left eye was my dominant one,” he said.
Dobson’s inner strength was evident from an early age.  He was a high school star athlete at the old King George High School and it was there where he acquired the moniker “Moose” from his exploits as co-captain of the football and baseball teams (according to most sources, a teammate was watching him plow down King George rivals during a football game and remarked “look at that old ‘moose’ go” and the nickname has stuck ever since.)
After graduation, the “Moose” went on to enlist in the Army where he served as an ordnance technician but also “spent a lot of my time playing football and baseball for Fort Eustis.”
In the mid-1960s, he returned to his hometown after his Army discharge to a job as a Volkswagen technician at King’s Volkswagen, but in 1967 he became a part-time deputy for the sheriff’s department.
“I started by transporting inmates around and persons with mental disorders to hospitals back then,” he said. “Then there was a rash of business burglaries about 1968 and Sheriff Jay Powell asked me to become a full time deputy.”
Dobson spent seven years on the force honing his law enforcement skills and, driven by the need for his home town county’s chief department to become more of a professional crime-fighting activity, he got the itch for higher office in 1975 and he bested his former boss for the job.
One of the first crimes that confronted the new sheriff was a homicide in the Owens area of the county.
“A waitress at the old Hillcrest Motel was reported missing and we located her body in the woods around what is now known as Dixon Lane,” Dobson recalled.
“There were no witnesses to the scene, just the body.  So when we got there the first thing we did was to ensure that no evidence would be contaminated because, at that time, a lot of the sheriff’s offices around (the Northern Neck) were like us, understaffed.  I knew we needed team work for situations like this.  So before this murder occurred we had established a mutual regional investigative unit with other sheriff’s departments in our area.  I worked to get professional people skilled in areas like photography, evidence collection, and other areas of detective work and, because of the good police team effort done by that unit, we were able to collect real good evidence and within seven days we made an arrest and were able to get a conviction,” he said.
Another homicide that occurred early in his career as sheriff made a national headline in one of the country’s leading crime magazines: “Official Detective” March 1983 issue.
“It was an arson-murder case for insurance,” Dobson reported.  “It involved a lady who set up a CB network who went by the handle of the ‘Yankee Lady’.”
 It was a complex case.  The ‘Yankee Lady’ had a strong CB and would talk to truckers up and down 301 telling them where the county “bears” (deputies) were and would spend a lot of time talking to the drivers. She had a daughter who went by the handle of the “Oklahoma Ladybug” and apparently there was some sort of issue about money between them.  They both had homes nearby off of Hwy 301. Anyway, the mother conspired with some truckers to have the ‘Oklahoma Ladybug’ done in and her house burned.  We got several arrests after the investigation we did,” he said.
Dobson’s crime fighting tenure has also included many arrests involving robbery, drugs and their dealers, even an illegal alcohol distillery or two that has marked good old boy practice below the Mason-Dixon Line.  “There was one we found a long time ago in a field off of Lamb’s Creek Road,” he noted.
The career in public safety that protected King George for his nearly 43 years of total service was sharpened by many weekend training stints at the National FBI Academy as well as graduation from the National Sheriffs Institute and the Virginia State Police Training facility.  And it was such belief in good education being at the core of good police science that drove Dobson to help found the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy.
Looking back on it all, Dobson credits his achievements to several factors.  But his faith stands out among them.  He is a deacon at Round Hill Baptist Church as well as a Sunday School teacher and he demonstrates a deep bedrock conviction that “doing the things in the Lord’s work” will always result in life’s best benefit.
His goal now is to see a seamless transition to his chief deputy, Maj. Steve Dempsey.
“Steve has been with me more than 30 years.  He’s a good people skills man, a great law enforcement man, and is a graduate of the FBI Law Enforcement Academy.  He’s always been the best officer he could be whether it was as a canine officer or as a major on the King George County Sheriff’s Dept.,” Dobson said.  “Given the opportunity he will be the best sheriff he can be.”
“By stepping down a year early (on Jan. 1), I want to leave the people of King George a continuity, and they won’t see the difference because Steve and I think so much alike in so many areas.”
Dobson said most of his plans in retirement surround around his three “grand kids” and his church activities.
“I’m just looking forward to the time that I don’t really have to plan anything,” he said.  “I do need to do some visiting with some of the shut-ins that I know and folks in the hospital that need to be cheered up.”
Summing up his career, Dobson said that “it was a job I loved doing and had fun while doing it … it’s been like the old prophet in the Bible that said at the end of your life’s journey that if you look back and if you feel you have filled God’s purpose then you’ve been blessed, and I feel blessed.”

Doug Davant

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