Oakes’ career spans 26 years as a Virginia State Police trooper, starting in 1969. He retired as a master trooper in 1995, a retirement that lasted just long enough to be elected Wise County sheriff to begin his first term in office in 1996. With subsequent re-elections, he has become the longest serving sheriff in Wise County history.
After completing his current and final four-year term this year, Oakes’ retirement plans will focus on family, including a lot of time with his now 2-year-old grandson.
During his formal announcement at the Wise County Justice Center on Tuesday, Oakes said he made a number of promises to voters when running for sheriff in 1995 and was proud to proclaim in 2019 he’s kept them all.
They include “leading the fight in the battle against drugs in our schools by beginning a K-9 unit ... to assist in finding drugs in our schools,” continuing the D.A.R.E. program to teach young people about the danger of drugs, and working with local, state and federal law enforcement to coordinate resources to fight the drug scourge.
“I can stand before you today and say those promises were made, and those promises were kept,” Oakes said.
Oakes also pointed to increasing the number of school resource officers during his five terms as sheriff, getting Neighborhood Watch Programs established in every community, forming a 911 Task Force to make the E-911 system more efficient, starting programs like Project Life Saver and Good Morning Wise County, the latter a constant welfare check service for seniors.
During his time as sheriff, Oakes also led the WCSO to become the 13th law enforcement agency and fifth sheriff’s office in Virginia to be accredited by the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission, an accreditation that has been successfully renewed in 2006, 2010, 2014 and last year.
“The promises made in the past have been promises that have been kept then and now. But we have to build on those promises and continue to do so,” Oakes said. “Of course, it takes more than one person to fulfill promises like these. Over the years, we have seen a lot of good people come and go in this office, and we have had some characters.
“People that have come from all walks of life. I am proud to say that I have worked with employees from different political parties and I always appreciated and learned from their viewpoints and suggestions and hard work. I want to thank all of you for all your hard work over the years. You have my greatest admiration and respect.
“Wise County is my home. As a state trooper in the beginning and as your sheriff now, I have traveled almost every square mile of Wise County and the city of Norton. As a law enforcement officer, I have sometimes been a firsthand witness to people’s tragedies and heartaches, but I have also seen their triumphs and hopes. Being in law enforcement enables you to be a part of those good things, too.”
Oakes quoted Hall of Fame NFL football coach Vince Lombardi: “ ‘The goal in life isn’t to live forever, but to create something that will.’ My hope is that the good things we’ve started will live forever and enable the people of these mountains to live in a community that is prosperous, safe and secure.”