Honor. That’s the one word Holly Emery used to encapsulate her late father’s memory.
Retired Montgomery County Sheriff Ronald “Rush” Emery died in his Fonda home Saturday night after a lengthy illness. Holly and most of her six siblings were at his side.
“I’ve been thinking about his life a lot since,” she said. “What defined him. He really had a sense of what was right for the people of his county, and he really cared about his family.”
Emery was 76. He leaves behind seven children, eight grandchildren and his wife of 55 years, Sally. Holly said she and her siblings remember him as a guy who could juggle the demands of a career in law enforcement while finding time to nurture his loving family.
“He was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said, recounting late might emergency calls — a common tale for the children of sheriffs.
Emery took over as sheriff in 1974, working 23 years before retiring in 1997 according to a department statement. In those two-plus decades, he was the county’s lead man on crises, great and small.
His son Richard was on the dive team searching for sunken cars in the cold spring waters of Schoharie Creek back in 1987 when the Thruway bridge collapsed, killing 10 travelers.
Until the state police arrived in force, the sheriff led the search.
“That night, when the water receded a bit, we found the first car,” Richard Emery said. “My dad was there for that. He was there in the morning when we found the next one.”
In the midst of the stress, he said, his father always knew what to do.
“One thing about my dad, he always kept an even keel,” he said.
Now, Richard Emery is jail administrator at the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office. He credits his career choice to a deep respect for his father. Richard even worked under his father for 15 years before shifting to Saratoga County.
Running the jail, the younger Emery takes his inspiration from his father’s respect for the incarcerated. Richard recalled that it was his dad who first brought the GED program into the county jail.
“Just because they were incarcerated didn’t mean they were dirt under his feet.” Richard Emery said. “The guys who were in jail under his watch would tell you that.”
Emery’s successor as Montgomery County Sheriff, Michael Amato, and Undersheriff Jeff Smith called Emery’s passing a huge loss to law enforcement and to the county. At a professional level, he’s remembered as a great cop, but his children say he was much more.
“I remember one time when we were kids,” Richard recounted. “He got back early in the morning from a bad fire in Florida, I think it was. A whole family had burned. Five or six kids. He just gathered us all up in a hug.”
More than any late night emergency calls, they remember Emery for road trips.
“He used to take us on all these adventures,” Holly said. “We’d paddle out to an island on Spy Lake in the Adirondacks. It’s private property now, but back then we’d have it all to ourselves.”
He once took three weeks of vacation to drive across country with the family, stopping at state parks and historical spots.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Richard said.
Monday afternoon, there were no funeral arrangements yet.