On Tuesday, August 21, 2012 law enforcement lost a true leader who left a legacy of innovation and professionalism in the State of Georgia and the United States. Robert E. Hightower spent nearly 50 years in law enforcement after spending several years in the United States Navy in the early 1950s working with the Underwater Demolition Teams 2 & 21, the predecessors to the United States Navy Seals.
Bob began his law enforcement career with the Identification Division of the FBI for about a year and served with the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Police Department for almost seven years. Bob came to Georgia in 1963, working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for about nine years and achieving the rank of Captain. In that role, he investigated several high profile crimes and supervised an intelligence unit assigned to many sensitive cases.
In 1972, he was appointed as the Public Safety Director over the Cobb County Police Department. In that position, he raised the department standards and led the department to state and national prominence. Bob became the first director over the Cobb County Department of Public Safety in 1993 and was placed over the police, 911 and fire services.
He retired from Cobb County in May 1999 and accepted an appointment from Governor Roy Barnes as Colonel of the Georgia State Patrol. In 2000, Hightower was appointed to the newly-created position of Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety and placed over the state patrol, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Later he commanded the state’s first Department of Homeland Security. Bob served Gov. Barnes in these positions until March 2003.
Bob was known throughout the law enforcement profession as a man who worked with agencies to create alliances. As a friend said, “He had no peer in his knowledge of local, state, and federal law enforcement.” He built relationships between agencies through his personal relationships with his peers. He was active in the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
I’ve been asked several times, “What made Bob Hightower a great leader?” I had many conversations with Bob about leadership. What was truly amazing is how Bob believed leadership was just a part of his personal mission. Having worked for him, I can provide his insights into his leadership philosophies.
First, he always formed clear goals and transmitted those goals. Second, he never forgot the leaders below him who carried out those goals, the line officers who made split-second decisions on the street and the recruits who carried the future of the department. Finally, Bob believed in passing the mantle of leadership and preparing those below him through training and mentoring. That is the true measure of a leader.
When Bob came to Cobb County, he redesigned the patch for the department. I have seen patches from around the world. I remain extremely proud to have worn the patch of the Cobb County Police Department. The patch and seal contain three words, Ducimus Ceteri Sequuntur, which translates, “We Lead, Others Follow.” As I reflected upon the life of this man, my friend, my supporter and my mentor, I finally realized why he used these words on the patch. He was making a statement of his personal philosophy: “If I lead, others will follow!” What great words to embrace and remember.
In June 2012, I was honored to participate in a formal ceremony to dedicate and rename the Cobb County Police Headquarters in his honor. Words cannot describe what that ceremony meant to Bob. Even as his work and accomplishments were so well known and obvious, he was humbled by the recognition. At that dedication, I said that the monument, as beautiful as it is, was not Bob’s legacy. A monument is formed with the hands of a man. A legacy is formed with the heart and the soul. Bob’s legacy is that he left this world better than he found it.
I write this article to let others in law enforcement know how much he added to the profession that we all enjoy. I hope all of you will adopt his commitment to leadership in a profession he proudly chose. As you go forward, look for opportunities to further the profession as he did for so many years. Never pass up a challenge or an opportunity to improve the lives of others. Humbly accept the mantle of leadership and use that post to mentor others.
Bob and his legacy will live on through our thoughts, words and deeds. May Bob enjoy the eternal reward in Heaven that he earned through the life he led and may God embrace His newest warrior as we continue our journeys without him. His life exemplifies the principle of “service before self.” His name may not appear in many history books, but as for law enforcement and public safety, he lived a life worthy of remembering.
Lance LoRusso is an attorney, former LEO and founder of LoRusso Law Firm, PC in Marietta, Georgia. He is the General Counsel for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police and author of a blog, www.bluelinelawyer.com. He speaks at many conferences for law enforcement on use of force, responses to critical incident, and other topics of interest to law enforcement. He will soon release a book for LEOs on critical incidents. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (bluelinelawyer or (lancelorusso).