By Jesse Wood
Officer Mike Foley’s wicked sense of humor was on display – and reciprocated – during his retirement celebration at the Jones House in downtown Boone on Wednesday afternoon.
“We are going to present Foley with a few gifts, a few kind words – or a few words, whichever comes first,” Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said before those in attendance.
After 34 years in law enforcement, 18 years of which were with the Boone Police Department, Foley’s last day on the force was today, Aug. 31, 2016. The Jones House was the fitting site for Foley’s celebration, considering Foley’s beat was the downtown strip for 17 of those 18 years in the High Country.
“I’ve been cutting Michael’s hair since he moved here – both of them,” Haircut 101 owner John Mena said. “It’s been a pleasure … You helped to make downtown a safer and more enjoyable place. So on behalf of the [downtown merchants] thank you very much.”
This is an end of an era. Officer Foley will go down as a downtown Boone icon. Right up there with Boone Drug and Doc Watson. His presence and affable personality certainly added a uniqueness to Boone over the past two decades, a time that has seen tremendous change. And no matter how things were different, you always knew you’d see Officer Foley around, clutching his coffee mug, checking in with business owners and watching over the community – including telling young college kids (like me once upon a time) not to act stupid, at least out in public.
When Foley was assigned the beat by Bob Kennedy, the assistance chief at the time, because Kennedy thought Foley would be a “good fit” with the district, he wasn’t following in anybody’s footsteps. See, the area then wasn’t patrolled quite like it is today.
“He had to invent the program on the fly,” Crawford told High Country Press earlier this week.
Or as Foley put it, “I kind of made it into my own thing.”
Earlier this week, Foley said he had mixed feelings about retirement because of the relationships he’s created within the downtown community over the past two decades.
“I’ve been here so long on King Street, it’s kind of like [leaving] family,” Foley said. “The town’s always been pretty good to me. Probably one of the best places I’ve every worked actually.”
Prior to moving to the High Country with Laurel, his wife of 37 years, and their children, Shannon and Michael, Foley served in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento and began his career in law enforcement at Roseville (Cal.) Police Department.
He then moved back to the City of Ormond Beach, his hometown, to take care of his mother. He joined the Ormond Beach Police Department before serving the next 16 years on the Holly Hill Police Department, a community near Daytona Beach.
Boone Police Capt. Andy LeBeau was among the officers that spoke during Foley’s roast on Wednesday. Prior to Boone, LeBeau also served as an officer of a police department near Daytona Beach.
“He was on one end of Daytona Beach and I was on the other end,” LeBeau said.
“Tell you the truth, you were on the upper end,” Foley chimed in, to much laughter.
LeBeau agreed, looking across downtown from the Jones House hill: “If you all knew where he worked, this is quite an improvement.”
During the ceremony, fellow officers handed out gifts and told more jokes. Chief Crawford read from the resolution that Boone Town Council adopted this past month, honoring Foley’s “exemplary” service, and provided a few additional words.
Crawford noted that Foley served his entire career as an honorable officer.
“He’s done it with a lot of humility and with a great attitude, and he’s served this town well and served this agency well. We are very, very proud of him, and we’re so glad to help him celebrate his wonderful career,” Crawford said.
For his part, Foley attempted to read a letter that his wife wrote. He didn’t write it because Foley joked, “She was worried the children might be offended.” She was probably right. But Foley only got so far before handing the letter to his wife, presumably because he was about to become emotional.
But before that, his letter began with a quote from a John Wayne movie, one that he said he attempts to emulate as much as possible: “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and require the same from them.”
“It’s almost sanctimonious,” Foley said, following his motto. “But really when you come right down to it, I think when we are able to act that way as much as possible, the world would probably be a better place.”
In his brief time talking on the Jones House porch, Foley addressed the simple times of yesteryear and the hatred police officers face today.
“I feel like I am a dinosaur, a dying breed. Things just aren’t as simple as they used to be. About all we can do is do the best we can, try to treat people as fairly as we can, and try to make sure the young people have respect for us when they are coming up and try to maintain a positive image,” Foley said. “These are trying times. For you young officers, you have a real burden to have to share, and I really wish you the best.”
Foley and his wife live in Valle Crucis. His children are grown these days. During his retirement from the force, Foley said he was going to take life easy, work a part time job and eventually take that cruise they’ve been planning.