One of Alexandria's most admired and longest serving public servants retired at the end of 2006. After 30 years in the fire service, most of which as Chief Deputy Fire Marshal, Robert Luckett decided it was "a good time to enjoy retirement while healthy enough to enjoy it."
Although he was born in the District of Columbia, Luckett was raised in the Beverley Hills section of Alexandria. His family has been a part of Alexandria for generations.
In 1972, Robert Luckett was an offensive line center and member of the special team squad for the famous "Remember the Titans" football team at T.C.Williams High School. As stated by Tom Brokaw during his eulogy for the late President Gerald Ford, who played center for the University of Michigan, "They have their hands on the ball for every play and nothing can start without them."
That is Bob Luckett's legacy in Alexandria. He had his hand on the ball for every play during his 30 years of service. Whether it was for a routine fire investigation or being intimately involved in the capture of the Washington Metropolitan Area's most notorious serial arsonist in modern times.
"Being able to be part of that investigation and capture is one of the great honors of my career. It allowed me to observe first hand how state, federal and local enforcement agencies can work together," Luckett said.
Arsonist Thomas Sweat is now confined to the federal prison at Terre Haute, Indiana, along with some of the nation's most vile criminals. "Ironically, he was convicted in April 2005 just when that maximum security prison opened," Luckett stated.
Luckett was selected as part of the serial arsonist investigative criminal team in 2003. He worked that case, as part of that team, for nearly 22 months.
"We continue to communicate with him (Sweat) even though he is a
convicted felon. Sweat has verified that he set 300 additional fires over a 20 year period. That makes him one of the more prolific arsonists in the history of this nation," Luckett said.
ON JULY 6, 1976, Luckett became a member of the city's first paramedic recruit class which was recently recognized at Inova Alexandria Hospital on their 30th anniversary. He remained a paramedic for 10 years prior to joining the office of Fire Marshal.
Thinking he would enjoy a more rural setting, Luckett left the city's employment for two months when he was hired by Spotsylvania County as their Fire Marshal. "Being in the country was not what I thought it was going to be," he said.
He returned to Alexandria in Code Enforcement. From there he became a communications supervisor in Fire Communications for seven years. Finally, he returned to the Fire Marshal's office as Chief Deputy were he has spent the remainder of his local career.
"Bob was the best chief deputy one could ever have. I could always count on him no matter what," said former Alexandria Fire Marshal Michael Conner. "He had a very strong work ethic. The City is really going to miss him. They don't realize how much."
That sentiment was buttressed by Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne. "I have known Bobby since I was a teenager and he was coaching baseball. I've worked with him for many years. He is a very loyal and dedicated guy to his profession and this city," he said.
"I could always turn to him for help when I was a detective on the police force. His leaving is going to leave a big void. When he's not here anymore that's when many people are going to realize just how vast that void really is. He totally transformed the investigative side of the Fire Marshal's office," Lawhorne said.
Upon Luckett's announcement of retirement, he received the following email from his friend Lawhorne. "This is a sad day for Alexandria. I can't believe you are moving on and leaving us. What will we do without you?
"You have given us all so much of your time and energy, always there for everyone no matter what the need was. There is an old saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." That is you Bobby, the first one to step up to the plate and get it done.
"I can't even begin to list all the things I have seen you accomplish. I want to say thank you Bobby for making us all look good, for making this city a better place to live, and for being a trusted friend."
Admiration for Luckett the man and the professional stretched into
the ranks of the Alexandria Police Department as well as the
Sheriff's office. "I was a police officer when he was a paramedic
and he is a terrific guy and true professional," said Jannine Pennell, deputy director, Code Enforcement.
"I was his immediate supervisor for over a year. He was a real aide to me when I came over to Code Enforcement here in City Hall. I'm going to miss him. I'm very happy to call him my friend," Pennell said.
Some of those same sentiments were expressed by another Luckett admirer, Pat Troy, owner of Pat Troy's Restaurant and Pub. "There isn't a person more dedicated to this city and his job than Bob
Luckett," he said.
"He's always been firm. But, he would help you make it right if he found a violation. It'll take another 25 years to get a person of his quality and knowledge in that job. He knows the city and he knows the people. If you had problems and issues you could count on him to help you get it worked out," Troy said.
The 25 year prediction might apply to the "quality" and "knowledge" portion of Troy's prediction but not to the pure time factor. That was accomplished by the City administration shortly after Connor's departure.
Although many assumed Luckett would be the natural choice to succeed Connor, given his years of experience, knowledge of the city, and successful career, even recognized by the federal agencies with which he interacted, that was not the case. Instead Robert Rodriqnez, who had reportedly had been recommended by former Code Enforcement Director Arthur Dahlberg, was chosen within a short time of Connor's departure.
AT 52 YEARS OF AGE Luckett is looking forward to using his expertise in other venues. "I hope to do some consulting as well as enjoy life. The consulting may put me on the other side of the table. But, that might be fun," he said.
"I have spent nearly one half of my career in code enforcement. Alexandria is a model for much of the rest of the country because we've taken all the code requirements and put them together. It's one stop shopping for the consumer," Luckett said.
"Most locales have separate code enforcement and fire departments. Here they are together," he explained.
In assessing his profession, Luckett said that the things that have impressed him the most are the advances that have been made in
technology and the level of dedication of personnel to their work.
"The very essence of what we are charged with is the everyday, on-going protection of the public," he said.
"The people that work in this field are some of the hardest working people in Alexandria City government. But, we need more of them. Local government is always under the gun to do more with less," he said.
If he had his way there would be some changes. Those would include: more and better computers; increased training of personnel to keep up with the ever changing technology; a requirement for residential sprinkler systems in all new construction; and outlawing light weight truss construction in new structures.
"If we had more residential sprinkler systems we could definitely reduce injuries and loss of life. This new light weight truss construction meets the same construction strength requirements but in a fire situation it disintegrates far faster. That's why they call it "firefighter killers." This light weight construction can be found throughout this city in new construction," Luckett said.
But, for now he and his wife Caryn, who grew up in Rosemont, are looking forward to spending more time at their vacation home in Fenwick, Delaware, and on their boat. "Eventually, we hope to move there. But, Alexandria is our home and always will be," he said.
Both Luckett and his wife attended Alexandria public schools, elementary, middle and T.C.Williams High School. He also attended Bridgewater College near Harrisonburg, VA, and Northern Virginia Community College.
"I'd like to thank all the people I have worked with that have allowed me to do my job. The employees, leaders and people of Alexandria are great," he said.
"Like anyone leaving a job they have spent their entire life at I have very mixed feelings. And, you always wonder how you are going to be remembered," Luckett said.
Based on the comments from those with whom he has interacted and those of long standing friendship that remembrance is pretty much a given. For Luckett, like the position he played for The Titans, memories of his contributions, his professionalism, and the man himself will always be front and center with his hands on the ball for every play.