Sheriff Jim and Pat Robson

The following is a transcript of an interview conducted by Jacksonville Area Museum board member David Blanchette on January 25, 2024 with Jim and Pat Robson of Jacksonville about their life together.

David: Good afternoon Jim and Pat. You’ve been married now for 63 years. How did you meet?

Jim: At David Prince Junior High in home room, I sat behind her and I guess I pestered her quite a bit.

Pat: I didn’t like him then.

Jim: We dated off and on every year in high school until the last year. Then the last year I decided to give it up. So then she started chasing me.

Pat: I think God actually talked to me and said ‘you know what, you’d better take this one, he’s a good guy.’ So I changed my mind. It was just kind of like a light bulb came on. It was our senior year actually when I decided he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. We both graduated in 1960.

David: What happened after high school?

Pat: I was an only child, mom and dad always wanted me to go to college. Jim and I were going steady at the time when we graduated. I took off and went to Western in Macomb and he came up and got me every weekend and brought me home. So then I went back to my dormitory in Macomb, he would drop me off every weekend, and I’d go in and have my big cry. Finally at Christmas break I told mom and dad, ‘I’ve got to come back, I can’t keep doing this.’ So I came back and went to beautician’s school, the Flamingo Beauty School in Jacksonville.

Jim: After high school I went to work for a local plumber. At the end of the year I came down with appendicitis and had to have surgery. When I recovered there was no longer a job open and he didn’t have enough work to take me back. So I enlisted in the U.S. Army because I knew sooner or later they were going to catch me and I decided I might as well get that over with.

Pat: You and your folks needed the money to pay the hospital bill is why you enlisted.

Jim: I spent three years in the Army. While I was in basic training, Pat and I decided that we were going to get married in between basic and the next schooling that I went through with the Army. My mom didn’t think we were old enough, but she knew that we were going to get married one way or the other. I was 18 years old, enlisted in the Army, and my mother had to sign the marriage certificate for me so we could get married. You had to be 21 years old for males and 18 for females.

Pat: We never really talked about it, I think we just kind of had an understanding that we were going to get married. He came home from basic training one weekend. My mother and I had gone to the drive-in. When I got home my father was sitting in the living room and I said ‘well, what have you been doing?’ And he said ‘oh, I’ve been talking to Jim.’ And I said ‘oh dad, don’t talk like that, you know how I feel, it just makes me cry.’ About that time Jim came walking in from the hallway and he had a ring for me, he pulled it out of the desk drawer that mom and dad had and gave it to me. This was on a Friday, so we decided we were getting married while he was home. I went wedding dress shopping at the Emporium, asked our attendants, and we got married on Wednesday, June 28, 1961.

David: But right after you got married, Jim had to leave again for the Army?

Jim: Right after that I went to Fort Gordon, Georgia for training for two months. Then I left for Germany. I had no idea where I was going until I got over there. I went to the headquarters in Frankfort, and that’s where they informed me that I would be going in to Berlin. We took a train into Berlin and they stopped before we left West Germany, Russian soldiers came through the train.

Jim: I spent two years in Berlin, from August of 1961 to September of 1963. It was during the building of the Berlin Wall. They were blocking off the East Germans from West Germany. Back in the United States they made a big deal out of it but it really wasn’t so much on our minds over there or as serious as what the newspapers made it. It could have been bad, because at one time they told us that if the East Germans and Russians came over the wall into West Berlin, after 24 hours they would not claim that they knew me. I worked with an intelligence outfit in Berlin.

Pat: I knew he was in Berlin. I was living with my parents. At that time the spouses couldn’t join their husbands, so I stayed home. And nine months almost to the date after we were married, I gave birth to our first baby, Kevin. He was nine months old before Jim got to see him when he came home for Christmas in 1962.

Jim: I came back to the United States in September 1963 and went to fort Bragg, North Carolina and that’s where I stayed until I mustered out in April 1964. I came back to Jacksonville and looked around for a job. I found work with a carpenter just doing odd jobs. Then I went to work for Ill-Mo Products Company and I was driving a truck for them. While I was working for them the ad came out in the newspaper for the Jacksonville Police Department, they were going to be hiring officers. So I applied, and luckily enough I hired in 1965.

David: Tell me about your law enforcement career.

Jim: I spent about three years with the Jacksonville Police Department and then I went with the State Police. You have to have a wife who is very, very understanding to be in law enforcement. A lot of times you’re never home. When I was with the State Police there were college riots going on and we’d get called to Southern Illinois University and be down there two to three weeks at a time, then over to Champaign where we’d be sleeping in the gymnasium. And our wives were at home the whole time with the family. There were a lot of times where you’d miss birthdays, you’d miss holidays. You’d come home to eat a meal that she’s worked a couple of hours on for you, and as soon as you sit down your phone goes off and you’re up and going again to a bad accident or a call. It’s got to be awfully frustrating for the wives and the kids. It takes a certain woman to be able to do that for you.

David: Why did you decide to leave the State Police?

Jim: I was with the State Police for ten years, and the only reason I left was because at that time there had not been any pay raises for a couple of years. And a new administration came in and they said there would be absolutely none as far as advancement in pay. We went four years with absolutely no pay increase while the cost of living went up 50 percent.

Pat: By that time we had four children and we had quite a few hospital bills with our fourth child.

Jim: I worked part time at Wareco and they offered me a job paying me several thousand a year more than I was making at the State Police. So I took the job, mainly so I could get the bills paid and keep our house. I worked for Wareco for 17 years. I had my heart attack when I was 49.

David: Was it during this time that you decided to run for Morgan County Sheriff?

Jim: When I was 52 I came home from work one night and I looked at Pat and said ‘I’m going to run for sheriff.’ And she said ‘yeah, sure you are.’ Then she looked at me and said, ‘you’re serious, aren’t you?’

Pat: It scared me.

Jim: I went out and told the chairman for the Republican Party at the time that I was going to run for sheriff. He more or less told me that I didn’t have a chance and that nobody knew me in the county. I told him before it was over everybody would know me. I ran for election against three other guys in the primary. I won the primary and then I went up against Henry Jackson and I beat Henry by a thousand votes. I was elated. At first when I walked into the office after being sworn in, I sat down at the desk and I told everybody, ‘give me a minute.’ And I sat down at the desk and I thought, ‘what in the world have you gotten yourself into?’

David: Did you enjoy being sheriff?

Jim: I really enjoyed my 12 years that I had as sheriff. Several of the employees wanted me to run again, but I had always stated that if I was in a position to retire when I turned 65, I was going to retire and try and enjoy some life. I was only one month from my 65th birthday when my term was up after 12 years, so I went ahead and retired. I missed it a little bit but I really haven’t regretted the retirement. I have really enjoyed having our time that we were able to travel and just do some of the things we wanted to do.

Pat: I worried all the time while he was sheriff. At that time you could have a scanner and I could hear what was going on as far as accidents and so forth. There was one Christmas Eve he came home with salve all over his face, a radiator had blown up in his face and they wanted him to stay at the hospital. He told them no way, he was going home. Then there was another night where old Dr. Frank slammed into the back of his squad car.

Jim: At the foot of the Mound hill, I had stopped to assist a motorist who was sitting partially on the roadway with a flat tire. He had gotten out and had his car jacked up. I stopped to help him, and while we were working on it to get the tire changed, this was at 10:30 at night, I had the squad car overhead lights, the headlights, the taillights, the blinking lights, they were all going, and Dr. Frank ran into the back end of my squad car. He pushed it into the back end of the car we were working on, and totaled both cars. It was just a good thing I was out of the car at the time, because the car caught fire and completely burned up.

Pat: Of course All I heard on the scanner was fire engines were rolling out, squad car involved. So yeah, there were a lot of times where I would stay at home with the kids in bed and wonder what was going on. The only regret looking back on our lives that I have is that he had to leave the State Police, because he dearly loved the job, but he did it for his family.

David: Tell me about your family.

Pat: Kevin is our oldest, he was born in 1962. Our daughter Danette Scott was born in 1964, Bruce was born in 1967 and was killed in 2002 in a boating accident, and Glenn was born in 1972.

David: Are you enjoying retirement?

Jim: We’ve traveled a couple of times to Florida, we had a granddaughter living there. While I was sheriff we were lucky enough that we were able to attend some of the national conferences they had. We really enjoyed those, there was Phoenix, Portland, Fort Lauderdale. Those conferences were really helpful for law enforcement, getting to meet other law officers and their families.

Pat: Since retirement our travels have been in the states. We went out west, Kevin lived in New York for a while and we went out there several times. We also went to Florida and Texas. We haven’t gone anywhere out of the country and we’ve never really had the desire to leave the states for anything.

David: You’ve been married for nearly 63 years. What’s the secret to a happy marriage?

Pat: Being truthful, always talking to each other, holding hands, saying ‘I love you’ every day. Saying ‘I love you’ before you go to bed every night with a good-night hug, getting up in the morning with a morning hug.

Jim: Don’t ever go to bed mad at each other. Right, honey?