Written by Jeremy Farley
I grew up on a 300-acre Black Angus cattle farm in rural Wythe County, Virginia, during the early-1990s. Like most of the seven-year-old boys I knew back then, I was a good-hearted kid with a slightly mischievous side.
Unbeknownst to me, my father had given the local sheriff permission to allow the deputies in his office to come to our farm one evening to test out newly purchased night vision equipment and do weapons training after the sun went down.
One afternoon, while riding my bicycle down our long dirt road, roughly a mile off the hardtop, I saw a sheriff’s deputy car, followed by another, then a third, then a fourth approaching.
Racing back home, I ran inside the house frantically screaming, “There’s a lot of police coming down our road!” to anyone who would listen.
I’m not so sure if my initial excitement came from the sight of law enforcement coming toward our farm or the fact that so many vehicles were traveling on our gravel family road all at once – prior to that moment, I had only seen two vehicles on our road at the same time and that was my grandma and uncle who had stopped by the previous summer in route to the beach.
After my father clued me in as to what was going on, he and my mother walked me out to our family’s front porch and I watched as the carloads of cruisers which made up the local law enforcement motorcade slowly passed by our home and entered through the faded red cattle gate that led to the barn far beyond the hill.
The men driving those cars appeared to a seven-year-old version of me to be larger than life. They were stalky, drove cool vehicles and each waved at me as they passed by in route to shoot machine guns at night time. I wanted to be like them when I grew up.
As the final car passed by and my mother laughingly joked about what the nosey woman who lived near the entrance to our farm must’ve thought about all the cop cars coming our way, I nervously whispered something to my father. The embarrassment of even asking something so bold clouded my words from being understood.
“What’s that, son?” he asked.
“I’d like to meet a real police officer,” I repeated.
To my astonishment, my father quickly responded, “I’ll see if we can’t make that happen – I know just the feller.”
A handful of days later, we got a knock on our door and this massively tall man – or at least through my childish eyes he was – appeared, wearing a gun, badge, shiny shoes and incredibly impressive uniform.
This is Mr. Dicker, he’s a sheriff’s deputy, my father announced to me.
I froze, embarrassed to be in the presence of someone so cool.
I cannot remember a single word that man said to me that day or exactly how long he remained at our home – it could have been no more than five minutes, but the visit that he made forever touched my life.
Less than a year later, on December 6, 1994, my father came home and whispered something to my mother and the two of them retreated into their bedroom for a while, prior to coming out and breaking the sad news to me: “That nice deputy that came to visit you a while back died today.”
In the years to come, I would learn greater details of the tragic death, how that Deputy Dicker, a United States Air Force veteran who had served in the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office for fourteen years was sent to serve papers on a fifteen-year-old in Wytheville, Virginia. The juvenile shot Dicker twice, killing him.
In the years that followed this tragic date, God had different plans for my life. I would become a local pastor in Wytheville and be privileged to launch a magazine publication, the one you’re reading now.
A few months ago, I was asked by the sheriff to consider serving as a chaplain in the same office Deputy Dicker served in – I readily accepted the offer.
Each time I walk through the entrance to the sheriff’s office, dressed in the same uniform Deputy Dicker wore that afternoon he came to the house of a seven-year-old, I am reminded of him. There is a memorial table filled with mementos from his service, flanked by a large painting of the fallen officer that stares upon every person who enters through the door.
This morning, while dressed in the same brown uniform he wears every day in that painting, I had the privilege to participate in the memorial service that marked the 25th anniversary of this tragic date.
Before the service, I had the opportunity to speak with his son who shared with me the reality that his father enjoyed moments like the one I have just shared with you, being the hero to little children!
Former Sheriff King summed up the tributes best, when he stated, it’s not how people die that should define how they are remembered, but rather how they lived.
For me, though I never spent probably more than twenty minutes total with him, Deputy Cliff Dicker is someone I will always remember – partly because of how he died, but more for the handful of moments he shared with me when I was just a farm kid living down a forgotten dirt road.
It is with great honor that the Winter 2019 print edition of Appalachian Magazine is dedicated to Deputy Dicker and his family.
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