Even amid the jumble of details dating to the early days of the Eisenhower presidency, Pickaway County Sheriff Dwight Radcliff hasn’t forgotten much.
The still-energetic 80-year-old can rattle off names, cases and other facts with startling recall as he tells tales of a law- enforcement career stretching to 1953.
“Y604L,” Radcliff says, reciting the plate number of the 1957 Chevy driven by a suspect in the first homicide he worked, and solved, after taking office as sheriff in 1965.
To many residents of Pickaway and colleagues in law enforcement, Radcliff is himself an unforgettable man. Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott lauds his neighbor to the south as an “icon, not only in Ohio but nationally.”
As Radcliff prepares to hang up his gun belt after 48 years in the family business, he ranks as the nation’s longest-serving sheriff.
He attributes his longevity to passion for his job and always being a straight dealer, whether with the people, his deputies or the prisoners in his jail.
“I know people. If you don’t lie to them, they’ll take care of you. Treat people how you like to be treated yourself,” Radcliff said from his memorabilia-packed office. “I’ve always meant what I said and said what I meant. I’m proud of that.”
He isn’t sure what he will do in retirement. Aside from a four-year stint selling cars, law enforcement is all Radcliff has known.
Charles Radcliff, the manager of a dairy co-op, was elected sheriff in 1931, moving into the residence at the jail where his wife, Sadie, served as matron. A year later, their son Dwight was born, his destiny seemingly set.
Dwight Radcliff began shooting crime-scene photos for his father as a teenager in the 1940s, and he hired on with his dad as a full-time deputy in 1953. But Charles Radcliff lost a primary race in 1960, sending him to the sidelines and his son to the car lot.
Over his protests, Radcliff said, a couple of supporters dragged him to the board of elections in 1964 and “made” him run for sheriff as a Democrat. Radcliff won election, the first of what would be a dozen such wins.
Radcliff came to know his county and its people as no one else did. He knew everyone, it seemed.
When detectives couldn’t get anywhere questioning a suspect, they would call in the boss, said Lt. John Monce. “Dwight can get stuff out of people because he knows their dad, their mom, their relatives. They’ll talk to him.”
Radciff’s son, Robert, likewise grew up at the county jail where Betty, Dwight’s high-school sweetheart and bride of 59 years, also served as jail matron and office manager before retiring a decade ago after 37 years.
“Robbie,” as the Radcliffs call their son, was hired by his father as a jail deputy in 1980 and rose to lieutenant before retiring this year so he could run for sheriff, successfully extending the family legacy to three generations.