Retiring Clay Co. sheriff shares his life after law enforcement

Rick Beseler will tend to his land, ride rail cars, travel with his wife

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects , Joy Purdy - 5:30, 6:30 & 11 p.m. anchor

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - Sheriff Rick Beseler has been Clay County's top cop since 2004, and his resume goes back even further -- all dedicated to fighting crime and putting bad guys behind bars. But, you may already know that. What you may not know is the family man behind the badge, the farm boy or the lover of trains. He graciously allowed News4Jax the opportunity to spend time with him and his wife Joan, to introduce you to the person you may not have ever met.

Beseler made a life choice this election cycle, not to re-run for the position of Clay County Sheriff -- one he's held for the last 12 years. At midnight Jan. 2, Beseler will officially put down the badge and Sheriff-Elect Darryl Daniels will take over watch.

Beseler's life after the badge

"I won't miss the phone calls in the middle of the night," said Beseler's wife, Joan.

With a smile, Joan tells News4Jax she's looking forward to the new future she has with her husband of 35 years.

"I never really wanted him to be in politics but I knew he'd be a good man for it so I kind a let the state have them for a while but now I want him all to myself," she said.

Joan has certainly been the Sheriff's support behind the scenes -- his number one confidant.

"I try to never make a decision until I sleep on it overnight, and I tell people at the office that. What I really mean is, not that I sleep on it, that I get to come home and ask her about it," Beseler said about his wife.

But Joan is also a part of the reason Beseler decided to retire instead of running for a 4th term as Clay County Sheriff.

"Four years ago, when I was thinking about running for a third term, Joan said, 'I'm not asking you not to run.' She said, 'I'm begging you not to run. Let's start having fun in our lives.' And I said, 'No, I'm going to do one more term,' and I did. And about two years into that term, Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it made me feel about that tall that I had not retired when she asked me to. So it made this decision a lot easier, and she did really well," explained Beseler.

With Joan's good health and her husband's retirement, together they can enjoy the things that bring them hope and happiness.

"That's the thing I love. The wind whistling through those pine trees. I mean that's music," Beseler said as he took News4Jax to his 50-acretree farm in Clay County. "And those trees are money to me. I mean, they're like my babies."

Joan took us for a ride on the property, something she enjoys just as much as her husband. One thing she doesn't enjoy as much as Beseler -- his bright purple rail car that he has driven all over the country.

"I keep this motor car in tip-top shape, because you don't want to be 30 miles down the rail line and have it breakdown. It's a long way to push," Beseler said as he showed us his pride and joy. 

Beseler's love for trains comes from his grandfather, who worked for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad -- colored purple.

Today, the sheriff is part of the North American Railcar Operators Association, and he has at least one BIG trip on his bucket list -- The Trans-Canadian Railway. But, he'll have to make that trip without Joan.

"The first five minutes are fun, and then the rest of it is not fun," Joan told us with a chuckle.

While that trip will be a solo one for Beseler, the soulmates, along with their newly adopted pup Zipper, have many trips to look forward to with the purchase of their first motorhome.

"When I was a young guy, I always used to laugh at old people that had a little dog in a motorhome. And I said, 'Here we are now buying a motorhome, we got a little dog.' I've become the people used to laugh about," Beseler said with a smile.

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Joy Purdy talks with outgoing sheriff and his wife

While Beseler's looking forward to his new life, it won't be easy making the transition out of law enforcement.

"I will be honest with you, ever since I was 19 years old, I've gotten up every morning and put on a badge and a gun," said Beseler. "It's going to be tough on January 3 to get up and not have to do that."

At the same time, Beseler is proud of the sheriff he became and the legacy he leaves behind.

"A sheriff's office is the epitome of power. You don't want to abuse it," Beseler explained. "You want to let people know that you're honest and you're holding the office in public trust for them. And I think, that's the greatest accomplishment: Is knowing the public trust and that we've restored their faith in this agency and leaving it in a good place. That's why it's time to go out when you're on top."

Beseler's legacy

Whether you live in Clay County or not, Sheriff Rick Beseler has made headlines where you live. He has lead his deputies and community through some of the most tragic and trying times in his three terms in elected office.

Somer Thompson

He captured the national spotlight in 2009, the case involving the rape and murder of Somer Thompson.

"It is with deep regret and sadness that I have to inform you that a body has been found in the landfill in Folkston, Georgia. The body appears to be that of a small child," said Sheriff Beseler at a press conference seen around the country.

The sheriff stood strong but heartbroken, with his drive to find justice for Somer, obvious. Years of searching and investigating finally led to a conviction.

Detective David White

In 2012, Sheriff Beseler stood strong with his deputies and his community when Detective David White -- one of his own -- was killed in the line of duty

"Tonight, Clay County and indeed our nation, has lost one of its finest sons. An officer was killed in the line of duty. Tonight, one of the first in almost 40 years in Clay County. The officers were here doing their job," Beseler said as he addressed his community.

White was killed in a raid on a meth house. In the hours, days and weeks that followed, Beseler consoled his deputies and his community and continues to honor his life, while bringing justice and comfort to the family White left behind.

Green Cove Springs tragedy

In 2016, tragedy started at a Salon in Green Cove Springs. Three innocent lives were taken.

Before Murray Lancaster killed himself, he kidnapped his ex-girlfriend, Valorie Short and then shot and killed her along with Short's father, Welland "Buddy" Short. Lancaster then killed his ex-wife, Erica Green.

Family, friends and strangers were distraught. Beseler stood beside them all in prayer, and comforted his tight-knit community.

Giving back

While taking on crime was Sheriff Beseler's constant job, he made sure to make a difference where it mattered most. Once example was in 2015 when 4-year-old Jacob Snowden was made a deputy for a day.

"Let's give Clay County's newest deputy a round of applause," Beseler said to a cheering crowd as Jacob came into the room.

Beseler, with the help of Santa Claus, made "Jacob's Day."  One gift was a patrol car with working lights fitted just for him, instead of his motorized wheelchair.  And, the sheriff called in Santa, who delivered Jacob his own K9 partner to be trained as his service dog.

"You can't be a good K9 officer without a K9 partner, so allow me to introduce K9 Hope to you, sir," Santa told Jacob.

Before Beseler became Clay County's sheriff

Sheriff Rick Beseler was first elected sheriff in August 2004, reelected in August 2008 and again in August 2012, but his law enforcement career began long before that.

Beseler first put on the badge July 21, 1973, with the Green Cove Springs Police Department. In 1978 he joined the 4th Circuit State Attorney's Office and rose through the ranks to become cief investigator in 1993. Ten years later, in 2003, with 30 years of service, Beseler retired to run for Clay County Sheriff.

During those years he earned a bachelor's degree in criminology from Florida State University and a master's degree in criminal justice management from the University of North Florida. He also graduated from the 141st Session of the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia.

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