Gary Nicholson gave nearly 40 years of his life serving and protecting residents of Georgia as a law enforcement officer.
His career took him from being a street officer to becoming a state trooper and later a special agent with the state's top law enforcement agency -- the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).
And now the Thomson resident is enjoying retirement -- no longer being awakened by phone calls in the middle of the night because of a murder, an armed robbery or some other criminal case.
"Life is going to be different; that's for sure," said Mr. Nicholson during a recent in-depth interview with The McDuffie Mirror . "I'm looking forward to it."
Mr. Nicholson began his law enforcement career with the Atlanta Police Department at the age of 21. He went on to become employed with the GBI, starting out as a special agent before being promoted to supervisory positions.
Until recently, Mr. Nicholson had served as special agent in-charge of the GBI Region 7 Office in Thomson. He was there for six years.
"I'm going to miss all the people that I've worked with at the Thomson office and elsewhere across the state, but I'm not going to miss the job," said Mr. Nicholson. "I had the pleasure of working with some really nice people -- a lot of them real caring individuals. I will miss them, but not the job."
Mr. Nicholson and his wife, Vicki, are members of First United Methodist Church in Thomson, where he sings in the choir.
"I have a lot of friends at church and enjoy singing in the choir," said Mr. Nicholson.
He and his wife have no immediate plans to move away.
"We love Thomson," he said. "It's a great place to live."
Now that he is retired, though, he and his wife will be spending more time away from home than they used to.
Because Mr. Nicholson is an avid outdoorsman, he plans to go camping a lot.
In fact, just before he retired, he purchased a new truck and camper for future adventures.
"I love camping," said Mr. Nicholson. "It's just so relaxing."
The couple also plans to spend time with their grandchildren.
"My family means a whole lot to me and I'm planning on spending as much time with them as possible," said Mr. Nicholson. "I'm retired now. I can do it."
When he was young and growing up in Fort Oglethorpe in North Georgia, Mr. Nicholson never dreamt of becoming a lawman. Instead, he thought he'd become a fulltime firefighter someday.
The latter only seemed logical since he grew up in a home where his father, the late Luther Nicholson Sr. served as assistant fire chief of the volunteer fire department.
His father also was one of the founding fathers of the fire department.
"I grew in a town about the size of Mayberry," said Mr. Nicholson. "I'm not kidding. It was a real small town where everybody knew everybody."
He and his brother served as volunteer firefighters. In 1970, Mr. Nicholson graduated from Lakeview High School. Before graduation, he had joined the National Guard Army.
He was active in the National Guard Army from 1970 until 1993 when he retired with the rank of major. During his time in the National Guard, Mr. Nicholson was a company commander on two different occasions.
"I enjoyed my time in the Guard; it was a great experience," said Mr. Nicholson.
While still in the National Guard, he enrolled in Dalton Junior College, taking general courses. He later took courses at DeKalb College and Rinehart College, too.
Around that time, Mr. Nicholson said God began opening doors for him in other ways.
"I've always been a firm believer that God opens doors for all of us," explained Mr. Nicholson. "That's always been the case for me."
At the time, he also had met Vicki and the two were dating. The two married later and Mrs. Nicholson had enrolled at Emory Law School in Atlanta.
While trying to decide what he was going to do for a job in Atlanta, Mr. Nicholson eyed a full-page advertisement in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for persons wanting to become a police officer with the Atlanta Police Department.
Needing a job, he applied and was hired. Just two weeks later, he was sworn in as one of the youngest police officers on the force.
"I was a green through and through when I started out in law enforcement," recalled Mr. Nicholson.
He not only grew up quickly, but learned as he went; always striving to be the kind of policeman that he had heard policemen were suppose to be -- nice, respectful and professional.
"I'm proud to say that in all my years in law enforcement, I tried to treat people with those qualities," said Mr. Nicholson. "It meant something to me when I started out as a young policeman. And it meant something to me to be like that when I became employed with the state as a trooper and later as a GBI agent."
After becoming a police officer with the Atlanta Police Department, it wasn't long before Mr. Nicholson discovered that he wanted to make law enforcement a career.
"I found out early on that I loved it," said Mr. Nicholson. "I couldn't wait to go to work."
He later became employed with the Fulton County Police Department.
Mr. Nicholson said he learned early on that working as a police officer, the job always offered new challenges everyday.
"Going to work was exciting," recalled Mr. Nicholson. "I never knew what was going to happen or what I'd be involved in from day-to-day. My wife knew I had a passion for law enforcement and she supported me."
Mr. Nicholson later joined the Georgia State Patrol in January 1978. He worked as a trooper until September 1982 when he decided to transfer to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
During his years with the GBI, Mr. Nicholson worked as a special field agent out of the Atlanta office for seven years. He later was assigned to the Anti-Terrorism Squad, where he helped monitor KKK activities across Georgia.
He also was assigned to other special details, including helping to protect President Reagan and then Vice-President Bush.
"When I rode in the motorcade, helping to protect the president, I was only three to five feet away from him at any time," recalled Mr. Nicholson.
Other responsibilities assigned to him during his years with the GBI included White Collar Crime cases, Governor's Task Force for Drug Suppression and riot duties at Atlanta University following the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles.
Mr. Nicholson also headed the state's SWAT team for several years.
"I've been in a bunch of shootings," admitted Mr. Nicholson. "It was just all part of the job. I've never dwelled on it."
Aside from camping, he plans to involve himself in computer work, now that he is retired.
"I find computers so fascinating," said Mr. Nicholson.