For the past 47 years, Doc Holladay has begun every day the same way.
Before stepping out of the door each day, Holladay said he reaches over to kiss his wife goodbye. And each day Deborah Holladay tells him the same thing: "May God bless you and protect you, and I love you."
Deborah Holladay asked God to protect her husband in 1971, on his first day as a police officer with the Little Rock Police Department, and she will again on Dec. 31, his last day as sheriff of Pulaski County.
Holladay announced that he would not run for re-election early this year, months before former Little Rock Assistant Police Chief Eric Higgins won the vote to replace him. On Dec. 31, Holladay will walk into his office as a sheriff and out again as a citizen, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
"Every sheriff when they leave wants to be able to say 'The department is better now than when I took over,'" Holladay said. "I believe I can say that."
Holladay did not intend to become a police officer when he graduated from Fuller High School in Little Rock. He joined the National Guard, took college courses and worked full time at a Plexiglas factory during his first years after high school. But Holladay said he wanted more.
"I was looking for a career," Holladay said. "I wanted a career where I could grow and move up, but also where I could really do something good. So I applied (to the Little Rock Police Department), and I was hired. That's it."
That decision would lead to a multi-decade career, numerous awards and dangers and several jobs in two law enforcement agencies, all culminating in a 12-year stint as sheriff of Pulaski County. Though at the time Holladay said he did not know turning in one application would so alter his life, those who know him now say he has always been the right man for the job.
"He's honest to a fault," said Barry Hyde, county judge of Pulaski County, who has worked with Holladay for more than a decade. "Dependable, always informed and experienced. He's just — he's the kind of guy you want to put the safety of the residents of Pulaski County in the hands of."
Holladay grew up in Wrightsville, just 12 miles south of Little Rock. The town was small, he said, with a post office, a couple of restaurants and a few grocery stores — one of which Holladay's family operated.
He first met Deborah at Fuller High School, but it was only after high school that the two began dating. While home on National Guard leave one day after graduation, Holladay said he spotted her at a Shoney's.
"I saw her at the drive through, and I decided to talk to her," Holladay said. "And, well, it's 48 years later, and we're still together."
They were married in April 1970, and Holladay moved away from Wrightsville for the first time, to Little Rock. It was a few months after the move that Holladay applied to be an officer.
Holladay said his wife never opposed him joining the Police Department, but her worry for him prodded her to start every day with a blessing and a prayer.
"Every morning when I leave, even then and even now, she'll say it," Holladay said. "She never fails."
Holladay said he was sworn in at the Police Department on the same day he accepted the job and, just one month later, after police academy, he was assigned a patrol partner. On day two as an officer, Holladay made his first arrest.
"It was a call to a grocery store on Sixth and Fletcher to a robbery," Holladay said. "It was a little guy, maybe 14 years old. He tried to rob the owner, but the owner pulled out his gun and shot him."
When Holladay and his partner, Will Morgan, arrived, they knew little about the situation inside the grocery, other than there was a man with a gun inside the grocery, and that someone had been shot. They made a plan, when they entered the front of the building, Morgan would go to the right, and Holladay would go to the left.
"It was my second day on the job, my heart was pounding," Holladay said. "Literally, I could feel it racing. I was nervous, scared, you know?"
But the would-be-thief was caught and given medical treatment and soon burglaries and other dangerous situations became the norm for Holladay, who just three years after starting on the patrol became a detective in the department's burglary division.
He would eventually return to the burglary division as a supervisor, become patrol supervisor, public information officer and, just before he left the department in 2004, write the first official history of the Little Rock Police Department.
Years before leaving the Police Department, Holladay told Sheriff Randy Johnson he could be interested in running for sheriff one day. Johnson remembered.
"I was at home one day and I got a call from the sheriff," Holladay said. "He asked if I was interested in running."
Of course, Holladay told him yes. In June of 2004, two and a half years before he would become sheriff, Holladay began working for the sheriff's office, getting to know the people there and learning about the office.
"Randy announced he was not going to run in 2006 in April; the following day I announced I was running," Holladay said.
As they would for the next 12 years, the residents of Pulaski County elected him sheriff.
Holladay said he soon entered into a different world of policing: providing deputies for the 580 square miles of unincorporated territory in the sheriff's domain and for the county court system and operating what was then an 880-bed detention facility.
Holladay came in just after the 2005 countywide cutbacks, which Holladay said caused the sheriff's office to cut several positions and cut back on the population.
Making the county jail more efficient and better suited to serve Pulaski County would become one of Holladay's primary projects.
"To the public, the most major thing that has occurred during my 12 years here is that we've grown the jail from 800 beds to 1,210 beds," Holladay said.
"We have an obligation to law enforcement agencies and cities in Pulaski County to have a jail."
Hyde said the efficiency of the jail, too, has improved.
"Doc has managed to get his folks to keep their finger on the pulse of that inmate backup and working with the department of corrections," Hyde said. "That's a tightrope walk, and he's done it well and effectively. He's tried to keep the jail as productive as possible."
When Holladay retires, Hyde said he will miss the friendship and relationship he's built with the sheriff the most.
"I'm sure we'll develop the same relationship with our new sheriff," Hyde said, "but when there's an issue to be addressed, I always knew that I would rely on sheriff Holladay to be responsive, quick and honest."
Arkansas State Police Director William Bryant said he, too, will miss the personal relationship he has with Holladay. Since he met Holladay in the '90s, Bryant said he's learned much about the sheriff — from his dedication to the people of Pulaski County to what Bryant called an "addiction" to hot dogs.
"He has dedicated his life to this profession, and he's never in a bad mood," Bryant said. "He's an outstanding leader, and a great servant to the people."
In his time as sheriff, Holladay was named the Arkansas Sheriff of the Year twice by the Fraternal Order of Police and once by the Stop the Violence Committee, and served on several boards, including the Arkansas Sheriff's Association, Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training, Arkansas Sheriff's Youth Ranches and the FBI National Academy Associates.
But the most important honor Holladay has received, North Little Rock Police Chief Mike Davis said, is the David Barnett Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement, a national honor that Davis said reflects well on Little Rock, Pulaski County and Arkansas, as well as on Holladay.
"He's one of those guys who is always there," Davis said. "He treats everyone he encounters like they're family. When you go out with him, everyone knows him because he is always out in the community. He just loves people."
Personally, however, Holladay said he considers his greatest achievement during his time as sheriff to be the dedication of a memorial wall outside of the department. The red-gray granite structure, positioned just to the right of the office's front doors so that everyone who passes will see it, bears the names of every sheriff's deputy who died on the job.
"One of the things I'm most thankful for is that monument out there," Holladay said. "Those people whose names are written on that monument need to be remembered for the sacrifice they made. ... Long after I'm gone, that monument will still be out there. Sheriffs in the future can stand out there and remember those people."
In his office, Holladay has dozens of family photos. Scattered in between the family pictures are awards, gifts from other agencies and friends, and memorabilia from a life lived in law enforcement.
On his hands are two rings: his wedding band on the left and a sheriff's department ring on the right.
When Holladay leaves, all the photos in his office will be taken down; the room will be made ready for its next occupant. The ring, he said, will stay.
"When I walk out of here on my last day," he said, "I will reflect on the people I've met, the friends I've made and the people I've gotten to help. I've really been blessed."
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.