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Recorder file photo Former Montgomery County Sheriff Ronald R. Emery, left, is shown during a scene from the events surrounding the Thruway bridge collapse in April 1987. Emery, 76 years old, died Saturday.

Recorder file photo Former Montgomery County Sheriff Ronald R. Emery is shown in this file photo from April 1987. Emery died Saturday.

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Former county sheriff Emery dies after illness

Monday, December 31, 2012 - Updated: 6:10 PM

By LINDA KELLETT

For the Recorder

A mentor. A hard worker. Service-oriented. A loving husband, father and grandfather. An avid gardener with a deep appreciation for the outdoors. A history buff, who liked both travel and adventure. A die-hard Chicago Cubs fan. A cop's cop. A no-nonsense administrator with intelligence, integrity, dedication, professionalism and compassion.

An unforgettable man.

That's how people who knew and loved retired Montgomery County Sheriff Ronald "Rush" Emery remembered him on Sunday, one day after his death at the age of 76.

He died at home, surrounded by those he loved following a long illness.

Emery's daughter, Holly, on Sunday said, "We were very lucky we were able to bring him home on Friday night. He was here with all of us. I know he knew he was here, and it was where he wanted to be."

Married for 55 years to his wife, Sally (Klock) Emery, the couple had seven children (four sons and three daughters), eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

"We're all so very proud of him for what he accomplished. He really gave us all a lot. He worked so hard his whole life. He gave us so many opportunities. We saw so many things in this world. He felt it was important for us to travel and see the country," Holly said. "He was a great dad."

Her brother, Richard, the jail administrator at the Saratoga County Sheriff's Office, worked under their father for roughly 15 years, leaving the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office shortly after their father's retirement in 1997. Emery served as sheriff for 23 years.

Montgomery County Sheriff Michael Amato, who got his start under Emery in 1979, said during his predecessor's tenure, the corrections system underwent great changes. In addition to building a new county jail that was subsequently named after Emery, the county formed its first response (SWAT) team.

Bob Arthurs, who served as undersheriff with Emery from 1974 to 1987, said the department also developed a dive team during that time, with local personnel assisting other agencies with cases.

Other programs that Emery started included the K-9 unit, and he also was responsible for starting the jail's GED program.

Arthurs said, "Because the rate of recidivism was so high, he instituted the GED program. It benefitted inmates who were there long enough to benefit from the program. Some went on to [Fulton-Montgomery Community College]."

Additionally, the sheriff's office under Emery had snowmobile and mounted patrols as well as navigation on the river, said Arthurs.

Among some of the higher-profile cases the Sheriff's Office handled while Emery was sheriff included the discovery of one of the country's largest cocaine-manufacturing facilities on Chriss Road in the town of Minden. The existence of the lab, established by members of the Cali Drug Cartel, was exposed when it caught fire in April 1985.

In a 2006 article in the Recorder, Emery described the incident as "a wake-up call, not only for law enforcement here but for all law enforcement across the country."

Another indelible event taking place during Emery's tenure was the collapse of the Thruway bridge over Schoharie Creek on April 5, 1987.

"When he got the call about the bridge collapse, I was standing next to him. We were in Lost Valley getting people off the island with inmates. We got the last person off, and he said to pack it up. He took off, and I followed him," Amato said.

He said he was impressed with Emery's handling of the disaster, which started as a rescue in Lost Valley to a search and recovery operation along the Schoharie Creek in Fort Hunter.

"Our office did a lot of the footwork, walking along the stream. I was impressed with his organization of the search," Amato said.

As noted in an article highlighting the 25th anniversary of that disaster, when word came to Emery that an even more pressing emergency was awaiting him in Fort Hunter, he dashed to his vehicle, rushing so fast to the scene that he may have given himself a heart attack. Roughly a month after the accident, a test showed he had a slight scar on his heart that doctors believed was about a month old.

Richard Emery said working under his father was a great learning experience.

"I really learned a lot from him and his management style," Richard said. "There are things people didn't know he was involved with."

Former St. Johnsville Supervisor Rose Jubar said Emery was a native of St. Johnsville, where he met his wife.

"His mother and grandmother ran a clothing store next to [present-day] Cosmo's," she said.

Richard Emery said his father later proudly served in the Navy.

He was appointed deputy sheriff on Aug. 1, 1960, by Sheriff Alton Dingman, said Richard. He later served "with honor and pleasure" under Sheriff William Wert.

"He considered him a wonderful mentor," said Richard.

Emery became sheriff of Montgomery County on Oct. 18, 1974.

During his years in law enforcement, Emery graduated from the National FBI Academy at Quantico, Va., the National Corrections Academy in Boulder, Colo., and the National Sheriff's Institute at the University of Southern California.

Among Emery's many professional affiliations, he at one time was the chairman of the executive committee of the New York State Sheriff's Association; and at one time, he was assigned to investigate fires that occurred in jails in the South, said Richard.

He also served in the capacity of deputy fire coordinator for the county, as well as a police and fire instructor.

After the 1971 Attica Prison uprising, Richard said his father testified against the proposed appointment of Herman Schwartz, the governor's nominee as chairman of the state Commission of Corrections. He said, "The [state] Sheriff's Association was opposed to Schwartz's views on corrections. My father played an integral role. He made a strong argument against [Schwartz's] appointment."

He continued, "My father always took his job very seriously. The job was a 24-hour-a-day job for him. He was always responsible."

Minden Justice Susan Buddles, who worked her way up from a part-time corrections officer to a lieutenant under Emery, said the former sheriff provided her with valuable training. She said he made it a point to go into the jail to speak with his officers and always addressed them by name.

She said he always asked the corrections and officers and the inmates for input as the jail was being built, because they knew what the needs were.

Emery also gave her opportunities to advance, she said.

That was echoed by Amato, who attributed his interest in administration to Emery's belief in him when appointing the then-investigator to the post of undersheriff.

Arthurs said Emery was "instrumental in helping me get training. ... It was through his encouragement that we had these opportunities."

Retired Amsterdam Police Det. Lt. Thomas DiMezza said Emery was always there to help out with calls.

"If he was on the road and heard the call, he'd be there with his own sheriff's vehicle," he said. "He always looked out for his men. That was most important to him."

He continued, "[Emery] would go beyond the call of duty to get done what needed to be done. He was a firm individual, even with his own family, and wanted to make sure they grew up right. He didn't tolerate anything. He wanted you to come on, do your job, and have your shift (and) go home safely."

DiMezza said, "He was someone to look up to. He was a role model for many individuals."

All expressed deep sadness at Emery's passing and their heartfelt sympathy to his family.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete at press time.

     

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