Law enforcement agencies across the state and beyond have lost one of their most well-known and steadfast champions with the passing of James Robert “Robbie” Hamrick late last week.
Hamrick, 78, of Carrollton, who was a fixture in the county, state and national law enforcement world for more than 50 years, passed away on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 11, according to a McDonald and Son Funeral Home obituary.
According to Hamrick’s wife of 51 years, Linda, law enforcement was the only career he ever wanted or needed, and in those roles he truly thrived.
"He has never wanted to do anything else other than law enforcement," Linda Hamrick said. "Even at an early age, he knew that that was what he wanted his career path to be."
From the beginning of his career at the Georgia Department of Public Safety in 1959 to his eventual two-decade directorship of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Hamrick served in a number of different key law enforcement positions, including special agent; squad commander of the GBI criminal intelligence unit; special agent in charge of the Atlanta Field Office; director of the GBI investigative division, and supervisor of investigations on the Atlanta Murdered and Missing Children Task Force. In 1993 after 35 years of service, Hamrick retired from the GBI.
Linda Hamrick said that his drive to help and protect was sparked early, when he was taken under the wing of the Carrollton Chief of Police, who lived next door and showed him what it meant to be an officer of the law.
Linda Hamrick said that she still remembers the day she met her husband, when he was he was working in the radio room of the Georgia State Patrol. She said that with a friend, she was planning to travel to Gatlinburg to see the sights and her friend suggested that they call the GSP to check road conditions.
When they called, Robbie Hamrick was on the other line. The rest was history, she said.
"I enjoyed the conversation, he was just very likeable," Linda Hamrick said. "He wanted to know if I was interested in going for coffee after he got off, and I said, ‘no.’”
But even though she said no to coffee, she gave him her number, and after a few weeks they began regularly having long conversations on the phone. She said that her husband was a quiet, kind person that was easy to be with and easy to live with.
She said that they recently celebrated 51 years of marriage and in that half a century of commitment, they rarely fought.
"In 51 years of marriage, I'm sure we had little arguments,” Linda Hamrick said. “But I can say that I don't remember a big blow up ever.”
“Those two were just made for each other," said Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman, who said he got to know Robbie and Linda Hamrick well during Hamrick’s time at the GBI and in Forsyth County.
In 2001, Hamrick re-entered the world of law enforcement when he was appointed Chief Deputy of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office by Sheriff Ted Paxton, a position he would hold for more than 12 years until his retirement in 2012.
Freeman said that when he met Hamrick in 2001, the two men instantly bonded over past acquaintances. Freeman said that Hamrick’s ability to remember people and places was one of the things that set him apart.
“I could go in his office at any time and say, 'I need to reach out to somebody in Pascagoula Mississippi,' and he would lean back, think and say, 'Call Captain Jim So and So at Pascagoula,’” Freeman said.
Freeman said that no matter the city or agency, Hamrick was well known.
“And I cannot tell you the dozens of times I was at different law enforcement agencies — sometimes all the way on the west coast – and when people found out I was from Georgia they would ask me if I knew Robbie Hamrick,” Freeman said.
Freeman said that beyond being a co-worker and boss, Hamrick was also a friend and mentor to him as he rose through the ranks.
"I had the pleasure of knowing Robbie for more than the 12 years that he was here in Forsyth, I knew him when he was director of GBI," Freeman said. "If you think of the consummate professional, a leader CEO type, that's Robbie Hamrick bar none.”
He said that Hamrick was the idea of a “true Southern gentleman” who could do the seemingly impossible task of both commanding a room and making each person in that room felt heard and appreciated.
Freeman said that a moment that epitomized who Hamrick was in his eyes came when Freeman started considering running for the executive board of the FBI National Academy and came to Hamrick, himself a previous national president for the FBI National cabinet, for advice.
“I came into his office, asked to speak with him and told him I was thinking about running for the executive board of the FBI National Academy. He told me to sit down and said he had one question for me … 'Why?’” Freeman said.
He explained that he told Hamrick he loved the organization, what it had done for him and knew he had some good ideas to give back. And when the older man smiled, Freeman knew he had given the right answer.
“He just looked at me, smiled and said, 'OK, now let's talk. As long as it's not for you, as long as it's for somebody else and to make something better, let’s talk about how you get it,’” Freeman said. "Before he was willing to help me and support me, he wanted to make sure it wasn’t about me, it was about other people.”
That moment, Freeman said, was a perfect example of who Hamrick was and what he represented throughout his life — the idea of service before self.
Hamrick’s obituary states that he earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in criminal justice from Georgia State University, going on to serve on the board of Georgia State University’s Alumni Association and the College of Public and Urban Affairs Advisory Board.
The obituary states that he remained active in the National Executive Institute Associates, the FBI National Academy Associates and has been a lifetime member of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Georgia Peace Officers Association. He was also a past chairman of Atlanta Metropol, what the obituary calls “an organization of law enforcement and private security executives.”
Hamrick was also a member of the South Forsyth Rotary Club, Forsyth County Arts Alliance Board, Forsyth County YMCA Board, on the Board of Directors for the Bald Ridge Lodge, and was chairperson and on the board of directors at Johns Creek Baptist Church.
The public funeral service will take place at Johns Creek Baptist Church, 6910 McGinnis Ferry Road in Alpharetta from 3-4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19.