Joe Robbins passed away on March 8 at the age of 84 after a life devoted to serving the public and the Brownwood community.
Robbins served in the Navy during the Korean War and in the Brownwood Police Department for 41 years, working at all levels including three terms as police chief until his retirement in 1996. On Thursday, the Bulletin reached out to some of Robbins’s family members and former colleagues in the BPD for their thoughts on the longtime public servant.
Virgil Cowin served as Brownwood’s police chief from 1996 until 2010, immediately following Robbins in the position. Cowin said it was Robbins who encouraged him to run for the job in the fist place, after previous stints in the police department and sheriff’s office. “I got laid off from the railroad,” Cowin said. “I got back and Joe asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, right now I’m not doing much of anything. Just looking for a job.’ And he said, ‘Why don’t you run for chief?’”
Brownwood’s police chief was an elected position until 2008.
“I got to thinking about it, and we prayed about it,” Cowin said. “I kind of felt led to go ahead and run for chief thanks to Joe.”
Cowin described Robbins as a good man who got along with his officers. “He was always there to help if you needed some help of any kind,” Robbins said. “Joe and his wife, they were just good people. They were good church people. In fact, later we all wound up going to Coggin Avenue Baptist Church together.”
Joe Don Taylor, another former Brownwood Chief of Police, worked with Robbins and then served under him for two years after he became chief. Taylor, whose family has a long history in law enforcement, said his father served with Robbins as well. “Joe, I consider him a friend from way back when my dad was still active in policing,” Taylor said. “[Robbins] was my assistant chief for six years, and did a good job.
“He was a good chief,” Taylor said. “He served honorably and was a very loyal officer and supervisor to all the people.”
Robbins’s granddaughter Laramie Ratto remembers Robbins as a devoted family man who taught her how to fish, and about life. “He wanted to make sure that his family understood the love that he had for Christ,” Ratto said. “With his grandchildren, he spent a lot of time fishing and teaching us how to fish. We had to start with a kiddie pole. We couldn’t start with a real rod because we didn’t know how to do it, and he would only pull your line out of a tree so many times.”
Ratto related dark, early mornings when her grandfather would knock on doors and ask if his grandchildren were ready to go fishing. “You only had one chance to go,” Ratto said. “We would go and stop by Red Wagon, and he would buy a Honey Bun — which I always thought was funny, that he went to Red Wagon to buy a Honey Bun — and he would eat and talk with his friends.
“You know, there’s not very many men, very many grandpas, that would take those four young grandkids … fishing all by himself,” Ratto said. “You’d have to have a lot of patience and a lot of love for your family to do that.”
Ratto said Robbins was also a gifted storyteller. She said he was always telling stories and interacting with his great-grandchildren, still a big part of their lives even though he couldn’t take them fishing any more.
Funeral services for Robbins will be held at 2 p.m. today at his church, Coggin Avenue Baptist, followed by internment at Eastlawn Memorial Park.