Ronnie Rector’s office is mostly packed into boxes now — nearly three decades worth of certifications, accomplishments, and memories are heading home with him. After 28 years of dutiful service to the citizens of Morganton, Public Safety Chief Ronnie Rector will retire on February 1.
“I have loved every moment I’ve spent with the City,” Rector said. “I received some great advice many years ago. It was that you should enjoy where you’re at in every moment, because that moment will pass, and once it does, you can never go back to it again.”
Rector said he felt the time was right for him to retire, and for someone else to have the chance to be Chief of Public Safety. He said his retirement will afford him more time to spend with his family, which is what he’s looking forward to the most.
“A lot of people dream of becoming police officers and firefighters when they grow up. I had that same dream,” Rector said. “I couldn’t have lived this dream without the support of my family. My wife had to make incredible sacrifices with the hours I worked and the situations I dealt with, and she never complained about it. I couldn’t have achieved everything I have without the support of my family.”
You can ask him to tell you about certain calls he’s responded to — some good, some bad, and some with a little bit of everything in between — and he’ll oblige. But that’s not what’s meant the most to him. The most meaningful part of his career, Rector said, is all the people in the department and the community he built relationships with as he served at all levels of Public Safety.
“I’m going to miss all of the people I’ve built relationships with over the years. That’s what everyone who’s retired has told me, is that missing everybody you worked with is the hardest part,” Rector said. “I’ve been here for more than a quarter of a century. I taught some of our current officers in BLET (Basic Law Enforcement Training) School. I’ve known everyone around here for a long time, and I’m going to miss them. It’s afforded me the chance to see our officers grow as people and as law enforcement officers, and I’m so proud of everyone I work with. These are some of the most qualified men and women in the country, and they work here because they choose to. I am grateful to have been surrounded by excellent officers during my career.”
Rector said what has changed the most from when he was first hired until now, is the way law enforcement polices the community— and it’s changed for the better. Rector said law enforcement has become much more transparent about their operations, and now focuses heavily on building trust with the community through programs like Coffee with a Cop and the Partnership for Change.
“Policing is very transparent today,” Rector said. “It’s a good thing, because it allows the community to keep law enforcement in check, and helps people understand us more.”
Being a law enforcement officer gave Rector the chance to give back to the community he grew up in. Rector is a Burke County native and grew up in Valdese. He graduated from East Burke High School. In 1988, he earned a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Lenoir-Rhyne University.
Rector completed Basic Law Enforcement Training at Western Piedmont Community College and was hired in 1994 as a Public Safety Officer with the Morganton Department of Public Safety. He has remained with the department ever since.
Rector said he decided to become a Public Safety Officer because he was passionate about helping people.
“I wanted to help people who needed it the most,” Rector said. “I wanted to help people who couldn’t help themselves, and a career in Public Safety offered me a chance to do that.”
During his nearly 30 years of service with Public Safety, Rector has learned the ins and outs of the department and the community. Prior to serving as Chief, he served as Sergeant of Field Operations, Captain of Field Operations, Captain of Fire Services, Captain of Special Operations, Major of Support Services, and Major of Field Operations.
Rector earned multiple certifications and licenses, and completed many hours of professional development coursework during his career. He completed certifications and licensures for: National Fire Officer Level I, II and III, Fire Instructor Level II, Firefighter Level I and II, Hazardous Materials Level I, Driver/Operator Aerial Certification, NC Advanced Law Enforcement Certification, DEA Basic Narcotics School, Tactical Training Certificate Program, SCAT Instructor, LE Driver Training Instructor, Law Enforcement Instructor, and Advanced Taser Instructor.
Rector also completed extensive coursework, including: National Inter-Agency Incident Management Systems (NIIMS) 100, 200, 300, 400, 401, 402, 700, 800; Behavioral Science Aspects of Law Enforcement Leadership; Law Enforcement Ethics; Anti-Terrorism for Managers; Interaction Management; Crisis & Trauma Debriefing; Missing/Abducted Children; Hostage Rescue Techniques and Terrorism; Human Trafficking; Active School Shooter/Threat Response; Group Facilitation Methods; Law Enforcement Response to Domestic Violence; and Juvenile Minority Sensitivity Training.
In 1999, Rector completed the Administrative Officers Management Program from NC State University, and he earned a Masters of Public Administration from Appalachian State University in 2006. In 2009, he graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
As retirement looms on the horizon for Rector and he reflects on the many accomplishments of his career, he said if he could pass along one piece of advice for new Public Safety Officers, it would be the same advice he was given all those years ago.
“I would tell them to enjoy the moment they’re in, because it passes by,” Rector said. “If you’re a Public Safety Officer, enjoy being an officer. If you’re a Sergeant, enjoy being a Sergeant. Just enjoy where you’re at now, and do the best you can in your current position, because once that moment passes, you don’t get to go back — ever. Don’t get too focused on what’s ahead of you. Just enjoy the moment you’re in.”
And while his moments with Public Safety come to a close, Rector said he is looking forward to all the moments of his retirement that he will get to spend with his wife and daughter.
“I’m looking forward to getting to be more engaged with my daughter’s sports and school activities, and getting to spend more time with my wife,” Rector said. “I promised my family we would travel more once I retired, so we’ll do more of that, too.”
A retirement reception will be held for Rector on Friday, February 7, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the Morganton Community House. The public is invited.
Pictured above is Ronnie Rector at the time of his hire as a Public Safety Officer with Morganton Public Safety.
Pictured above is Ronnie Rector when he was promoted to Chief of Morganton Public Safety.