CINCINNATI – Running into the city’s former mayor, chatting with a homeless man and providing directions to a tourist all within a few minutes is what Gary Lee will miss the most.
He’ll miss the array of people he’s come into contact with spanning his 33-year career with Cincinnati police. Lee, the department’s longest-tenured captain, closed the chapter on what he said was "never a job, always a career,” last Friday, retiring from the only agency he’s ever worked for.
“I can remember my feelings when I first got the acceptance letter (in 1981), and I thought what an honor it was to be a member of the department, but after a few years and after getting to know the community, it became less of an honor.
“It became a privilege,” Lee said.
Lee, 66, said people often use the words “honor” and “privilege” interchangeably, but for him, describing his service as an honor was about him.
“Try to use the word ‘honor’ without talking in the first person,” Lee said. “When you look at things as a honor, you tend to focus on self, but as a I grew older, it was more of a privilege to serve.
“When you look at it as a privilege that is more of being entrusted with something,” said the Delhi Township native. “When I started looking at it the way, the focus shifted from me to the people I was serving – it wasn’t about me or the organization.”
On his last day on the force, Lee strolled through Over-the-Rhine’s Washington Park, visited Findlay Market and perused Vine Street, shaking hands and making small talk people on the street.
He bumped into former Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls after providing some words of wisdom to a homeless man and pointed a tourist in the right direction.
“In what other job can you talk to the former mayor, a homeless man and help a person who has lost their way?” Lee asked rhetorically.
On Friday, he lost the platform to sustain those relationships he's worked so hard to maintain.
"That's hard, that's what I'm going to miss the most -- the relationships in and outside the department," Lee said.
WCPO Insiders may read more about Lee's reflections on his career, the changes in policing nationwide, and in light of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, he outlined the overhaul of Cincinnati police policies through the years.