February 23, 2013

A mother remembers Robbie Bishop

By Virginia Stephenson Mother of Robbie

— As I drove through Rome the other day I thought of when my sons were in scouts.

We went down to Rome for the Pinewood Derby race. My sons, Robbie and Danny Bishop, were in the competition and even though their cars were made exactly alike, Robbie’s came in first place and Danny’s second place. Danny just laughed his jolly laugh and said that was fine. My youngest son, Rodney Stephenson, was not quite old enough for scouts yet but got into it later. They all loved it and worked hard at their achievements. Those were such wonderful years.

On the way home from the race, we passed the state patrol office. Robbie wanted to stop and talk to them. Ever since he was 5 he said he was going to be a policeman. After talking to them about 30 minutes, one of the guys came over to us and said, “I guess you know he is going to make a great police officer.” Robbie was only 7 but talked like a 10-year-old and already knew a lot of the codes he had learned from our friend who was an officer.

Danny had gotten Robbie a magic set for his fifth birthday. It wasn’t long until Robbie could do a sleight of hand trick that even I couldn’t catch. He started doing magic in scouts and talking to the kids about what drugs and alcohol could do to you. Then he decided that he wanted to be a ventriloquist.

He started working on it and was a professional by the time he was 11. He started using doves in his acts and continued teaching about drugs and alcohol. He always told the kids that magic was just an illusion because he loved Jesus and believed in honesty.

Robbie had a laugh that lit up his whole body and a smile that would light up your world. All the kids loved him and hung on to his every word, even the rich kids who thought they were better than the poor kids.

There was a child with special needs that lived across the street from us. She would sit on her porch in her wheelchair and watch them play ball. I looked out one day and there she was. They would hit the ball and one of them would push her around the field. She loved it. She moved away, but then Robbie found another little child with special needs who needed a friend and even rode her around in his police car when he was working in Murray County.

Robbie played football all through school and got the first award ever given away at North Whitfield Middle School for giving 110 percent. He gave that in everything he did.

He always brought home stray dogs, cats, kids and anything he thought needed help. Our home was always full of kids. I loved it and miss that very much.

Robbie left high school early and spent three months in Parris Island, S.C. He graduated with honors. He came back in his Marine uniform and graduated with his high school class at Northwest High School. Robbie was a small guy — only about 5 feet, 2 inches — when he left for the Marines, but his zest for life made him a much larger person. He became a military policeman while in Okinawa, Japan. He also used his ventriloquist dummy and worked on Bob Hope’s USO show while he was stationed in California.

After his tour in the Marines, he came back and started working as a deputy in Murray County. That’s where he met his wife. They had a son and a daughter who Robbie just worshipped. Every time one of them did something new I got a phone call. He loved his family very much. He was especially close to his uncle, Carl Hunter. He looked up to him and he influenced his character.

Robbie also had lots of true friends. His favorite Bible verse was John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.” Sgt. David King, DARE instructor at the time, was one of Robbie’s best friends. He said Robbie quoted this verse to him at a very young age.

Robbie moved to Villa Rica, outside of Atlanta. He started American K-9 Services and was working as a drug interdiction officer. In 1983, while in the Marine Corps, he wrote, “If I am selected for the Military Police I will uphold the duties of the law enforcement office, I will stand behind my badge with pride and dignity, showing self-respect and discipline. I will prevent crime to my utmost ability, protecting lives, even if it means giving mine in the line of duty.” And that is exactly what he did.

On Jan. 20, 1999, he was shot in the head while making a traffic stop on I-20 outside of Atlanta by Jeffrey McGee from Schenectady, N.Y. McGee pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life without parole. But our Robbie — son, brother, daddy, husband and friend — was gone. Robbie loved his work and would never have left it for anything else.

There were over 7,000 people at Robbie’s funeral. His funeral procession from New Georgia Baptist Church in Villa Rica to his hometown of Dalton was over 25 miles long. There were 200 motorcycles leading the way and more than 1,000 vehicles with flashing lights. Uniformed officers blocked off every exit to I-75 for the 80-mile trip to Whitfield Memorial Gardens. People lined the highways and freeway saluting.

At the burial service a contingent of Marines from Parris Island fired a 21-gun salute. The mournful sounds of taps were played by two trumpeters. “Amazing Grace” came from the bagpipes. Robbie’s dog, Buddy, howled and whimpered. Four police helicopters flew low over the trees and one peeled off in the missing man formation. A lone white dove flew under the tent and hovered over Robbie’s casket for several minutes, then out and up towards heaven.

Robbie’s son and daughter knew their dad was in heaven. He had taught them that if something happened and he couldn’t come home he would meet them again in heaven someday. All the kids in our family loved Robbie and when he walked into a room he lit it up with energy and love.

On April 14, 1999, U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, in an address before the House of Representatives, said, “During the past seven years alone, Robbie Bishop directly assisted in seizures of over 10,000 pounds of narcotics and more than $8 million from drug traffickers.”

On Aug. 27, 2002, Highway 61 in Villa Rica was named Robbie Bishop Memorial Highway and the million dollar justice building at 101 Main St. in Vill Rica has been named the Holt-Bishop Justice Center. It is named after Robbie and Ples Holt, the department’s first officer killed in the line of duty in 1908.

Robbie will live on in our hearts and in his work forever. He was the best of the best. He was only 35 when he died, but he made his life count from the time he was a little boy. You know, as we lie in our beds at night, all cozy and safe, there is a police officer somewhere protecting us.

We need to appreciate and pray for our officers and firemen daily.