After working more than 40 years in the law enforcement community, Tommye Robbins decided last month it was time to enjoy retirement.
Spending the past 32 years for the Omak Police Department, Robbins described her career “unbelievable.”
“Four weeks ago, I said, ‘I’ll be gone in two weeks,” Robbins said. “I don’t have a real reason, I just thought it was time.”
On July 8, a small retirement celebration was held where she was presented with a plaque for her years of dedication.
“A trusted and dedicated member of public safety for all of Okanogan County,” the plaque read.
Robbins has served seven police chiefs since starting at the department: Dan Christensen, Jeff Kolpin, Larry Schreckengast, Mike Cramer, Ron Bailey and Pete Sirois.
Christensen said Robbins’ knowledge of the community and its people will be missed.
“Tommye was absolutely crucial to knowing who was where,” he said. “That part is ultimately going to be lost.”
“Tommye’s been the glue that has really help that PD and city together for many years,” he said. “She is so knowledgeable. It’s like a computer that’s inside of her head that you can’t download. There’s so much knowledge inside of her.”
“My success throughout the years has largely been in part to Tommye always being there guiding and directing,” Koplin said. “Tommye and I worked together for a long time. She became like a mother to me at times, certainly my best friend at time.”
“All things come and go,” Christensen said. “Thirty-two years is a long time for somebody to be in a position.
“We are struggling to fill those shoes,” he said. “But, with that comes opportunities for new people to come in and fill those shoes.”
Robbins’ career in law enforcement began in 1979 she caught wind from then-Sheriff Jerry Beck that there was a job opening for a county dispatcher/matron.
She was working at Donaldson’s (a longtime downtown Omak store) at the time.
“I am college educated, I kind of liked where I worked,” she said, but decided to apply.
“When I first sat down as a dispatcher, I said, ‘What do I say,” she recalled. “I said how do you know what to do? They said, ‘You’ll figure it out.”
And that she did.
“My mom and dad liked it when I got a real job,” she said.
“I never got holidays off, because there was four of us and we all started in ’79,” she said. “We were the females that replaced the men dispatchers. It was a crazy line of work.”
In the early ‘80s, she would occasionally pick up extra work for the Wintrhop Marshal’s Office and worked security at the Winthrop Ice Rink.
“When I worked at the sheriff’s office and I needed extra cash, I’d work up in Winthrop,” she said, noting she was paid $6.50 an hour. “I didn’t even know how to shoot a gun. If there were an emergency, I would have been out of luck.”
“I think of it now and think, “Oh, Tommye, that was so stupid.”
She began working at the Omak Police Department shortly after the Omak jail closed. Over the years she’s worked a variety of jobs for the department before landing her latest title – secretary to the police chief.
When asked about a memory that stands out, she recounted a time a young child called to report a double homicide.
“A little girl, 7 or 8, walked a mile to call for the ambulance,” she said. “(I told her) she would have to relay exactly what went on. She was so cool and calm.”
Through the years she said she’s seen many changes to Main Street and the community.
“There were so many things and it’s just not the same,” she said of downtown Omak, noting how the city was booming when the mill was in operation. “Even the Stampede are a lot different.”
“We had lumber, dairy, apple orchards,” she said. “It just seems like it’s just not the same, even the Forest Service in Okanogan. It’s kind of sad.”
“There was a dairy on main street that turned into a tavern. They made ice cream right in town,” she recalled. “Even the (North Country) Pub burning was a big loss. When you go out to bar you have to pay $6 for something that used to cost 60 cents or $1.20.”
Overall, Robbins said her career has been fruitful with great people.
“I think the thing for me is the people you work around and the people you work for,” she said. “If you live in a community, you’re always nice to people and it makes a difference.
“Just because they’re arrested doesn’t make them a bad person,” she said. “Acts of kindness come back to you. I always like to treat people the same.”
Quoting the 1970 Ray Stevens song “Everything is Beautiful,” Robbins said, “Red and yellow, black and white, They are precious in his sight; Diversity counts for me. I love them all.”
Robbins said she never really planned an exact retirement date. Instead, she took things one day at a time.
“I was planning to be an Elizabeth Widel,” she said, referring to the longtime columnist for The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle who retired at age 99.
“Some people want everybody to know for years that they’re going to retire,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ll never get away if I keep saying next week.’”♦
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