Throughout his 45-year career at the DeKalb County Police Department, former police chief Robert “Bobby” Burgess Sr. was known for his expectation of excellence.
And he was extremely proud to carry on a centurylong family tradition of serving DeKalb County.
“Generations of Burgess men were in the DeKalb County government and he was really proud of that — since the late 1800s — and he continued the tradition,” said DeKalb police Lt. Tom Reiner, who knew Burgess for more than 25 years.
Bobby Burgess Sr. joined the DeKalb police in 1957 as a patrolman and served as chief for 22 years until his retirement in 2001, according to DeKalb police spokeswoman Mekka Parish.
It is the longest stretch of time a DeKalb police chief has served, Reiner said.
Robert “Bobby” Burgess Jr. said his father had “an extreme love for DeKalb County” and its history. The younger Burgess said his father could tell their family’s entire history since they came to DeKalb in the early 1800s and knew almost every detail of the last 80 years of DeKalb.
“He was a historian,” the son said. “It’s a shame he is gone because there is a lot of history gone with him.”
Robert “Bobby” Theron Burgess Sr., 83, of Stone Mountain died June 6 of natural causes. Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Avondale First Baptist Church. Burial will follow at Melwood Cemetery.
Jim Hanson, a retired DeKalb police captain who knew Burgess for 45 years and was his personal aide for four years, said Burgess was an avid World War II buff with a strong admiration for Gen. George S. Patton, frequently quoting his famous words, “Lead me, follow me or get out of my way.”
Burgess was strict and disciplined, but he always had people’s best interest in mind, Hanson said, recalling that Burgess refused to move to an office on the executive floor of police headquarters because he didn’t want to be too far from his officers.
“You always knew where you stood with him. At the same time he was a very compassionate man,” Hanson said, pointing out his deep love for animals. “He wouldn’t hesitate to spend money on an animal, but he would find a discount for himself.”
Bobby Burgess Jr. said his father ran the family in much the same way he ran the police department, describing him as “tough and fair” with the bar set high.
“When you made a mistake, he really let you have it. But when he was finished chewing you out, he helped you solve the problem and move on,” the younger Burgess said. “As a son I knew he would stand beside me on anything. He might not have liked it, but he would stand with me.”
Bobby Burgess Sr. is survived by his wife, Shirley Burgess; three sons, Bobby Burgess Jr. of Dacula, David Burgess of Dacula and Joel Burgess of Decatur; three stepchildren; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.