Georgia State Patrol’s first Black trooper remembered for his humility

Robert Hightower Sr., Georgia's first Black state trooper, died last week. He was 77. (credit: Georgia State Patrol)
Robert Hightower Sr., Georgia's first Black state trooper, died last week. He was 77. (credit: Georgia State Patrol)

Credit: Georgia State Patrol

Credit: Georgia State Patrol

Robert Hightower Sr. of Atlanta dies at age 77

Betty Hightower worried every time her husband went to work.

“The times back then were not like they are now," she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But if you are a wife of law enforcement, you worry because things happen.”

But Robert Hightower Sr. dedicated his life to serving others. As the Georgia State Patrol’s first Black trooper, he worked more than 28 years for the department. And although Hightower retired in 1998 from the Department of Public Safety, his service continued, his family said.

Last week, Hightower died at age 77.

“We were with him when he took his last breath," Betty Hightower said.

ExploreRead the "Major Robert Hightower Day" proclamation

The oldest of five brothers, Robert Hightower Sr. was born in Atlanta in 1943 and graduated from the former Turner High School in 1961. A career in public safety was his dream, and he went to work achieving his goal, his family said.

On July 13, 1970, Hightower was hired by the State Patrol, the agency’s first Black trooper, paving the way for countless others. But making history wasn’t something he bragged about, his wife said.

“He was a very humble man,” she said. “If people were talking about his accomplishments, he would sit there and smile. He was really down to earth. That was just his style.”

The couple, married for 58 years, had two children — son Robert Hightower Jr. and daughter Robin Moses. Betty Hightower also had her own career in banking and said she and her husband were always busy with their careers and their family, which includes three granddaughters.

Maj. Robert Hightower of the Department of Public Safety points to a new feature on a teenagers' driver's license during a June 1997 news conference in Atlanta. Rep. Warren Massey, R-Winder, is in the background. (AP Photo/Alan Mothner)
Maj. Robert Hightower of the Department of Public Safety points to a new feature on a teenagers' driver's license during a June 1997 news conference in Atlanta. Rep. Warren Massey, R-Winder, is in the background. (AP Photo/Alan Mothner)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Education was also a priority for her husband, who completed numerous degrees while working as a trooper. In 1976, Hightower earned an associate degree in police administration from DeKalb Community College, followed by a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from Brenau College in 1982, the State Patrol said. In 1985, he completed his master’s degree in executive decision making.

His work experience, coupled with his continued efforts to further his education, led to numerous promotions for Hightower, who became a corporal in 1974. In 1979, he was promoted to sergeant and became a Certified Grievance Hearing Officer for the Georgia Merit System for 17 years. He was named a lieutenant in 1981, a captain in 1990 and a major in 1995.

Among the highlights of his career was carrying the torch leading up to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, his family said. Hightower also served as the venue commander for the Games. During his extensive career, he also provided security for the family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., as well as various government officials and leaders.

A year after his retirement, the state of Georgia proclaimed Feb. 15, 1999, “Major Robert Hightower Day” to recognize the precedent he set through leadership and service.

Robert Hightower (left), Elridge McMillan (center) and Betty Hightower, wife of Robert Hightower, share a moment at a pre-dinner reception at the Regents' Awards for Excellence in Education at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta on January 28, 2005. McMillan, who is a lifetime educator, is the namesake for the Elridge McMillan Lifetime Achievement Award, which is presented at this dinner. (credit: Kimberly Smith / AJC file photo)
Robert Hightower (left), Elridge McMillan (center) and Betty Hightower, wife of Robert Hightower, share a moment at a pre-dinner reception at the Regents' Awards for Excellence in Education at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta on January 28, 2005. McMillan, who is a lifetime educator, is the namesake for the Elridge McMillan Lifetime Achievement Award, which is presented at this dinner. (credit: Kimberly Smith / AJC file photo)

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

In recent years, Hightower served others through both his church and the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, his wife said.

Betty Hightower said she’s grateful for the life she shared with her husband, finding it hard to speak of him in the past tense.

“I really did have a lot of respect for my husband,” Betty Hightower said. “He was busy.”

A visitation for Hightower will be held Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Willie A. Watkins Historic West End Chapel. The funeral will be Saturday at 1 p.m. at New Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta.

The Georgia State Patrol will pay a final tribute to Maj. Hightower with troopers from Troop C providing a funeral escort for the family. The GSP Honor Guard will serve as pallbearers.

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Robert Hightower Sr.

In Other News