MEXICO — After serving as a police officer for more than 40 years, including 20 years as chief, James Theriault will retire Friday.

A ceremony organized by the officers is planned at the Police Department.

“I’ve been here long enough, and it’s time to move on,” Theriault said.

He will be replaced by interim Chief Roy Hodsdon.

“It’s time to let the younger guys deal with everything,” Theriault said with a laugh. “The selectmen made a fine choice in picking Roy to succeed me, and I’m sure he’ll do an excellent job. I’ve been tutoring him for the last six or seven years. He basically thinks the same way I do.”

Theriault’s long career as a police officer was not something he had initially sought, despite his uncle, Albert Theriault, serving as police chief in Rumford until he retired in 1967, and his uncle, Bob Gill, serving as a sergeant in the Rumford Police Department.

“I was delivering oil for the Benedix Brothers before I was a police officer,” Theriault said. “At that time, I had three kids, so I was doing anything I could do for a paycheck. I just knew I couldn’t drive oil trucks for the rest of my life.”

Theriault said that while he was walking in downtown Rumford, Stan Wagnis, a lieutenant with the Rumford Police Department, recommended he apply for a job in Rumford.

“He came over to me and said, ‘Hey, you should apply,’ so I went down, filled out an application and handed it in,” Theriault said. “It was that easy.”

Theriault said that once he was hired as a reserve officer at the Rumford Police Department in 1972, he quickly focused on learning to be a policeman.

“Back then, you didn’t have to go through a 100-hour course or anything,” Theriault said. “They took your experience working with people and working with other officers, and you got on-the-job training. The more you worked, the better off you were.”

Things have changed a lot over the years, Theriault said.

“Basically, people respected the police back then,” he said. “If you told somebody to do something, generally they did it. Just because. Today, if you don’t have a degree in criminal justice or a hell of a lot of schooling, you’re just lost out there.”

After serving as a reserve officer for two years, Theriault was bumped up to full-time status in 1974. He made his way up to lieutenant over the course of seven years.

Looking back on his years of working on the street, Theriault said he “really enjoyed” patrolling the Island or grabbing a coffee and a bite to eat at the former Freddie’s Restaurant on Congress Street.

“I especially liked the day shifts, when I could walk into the stores and talk to the merchants and the people who were out and about,” Theriault said. “You really got to talk to the people and got to know the people. We don’t have that today, and I understand why they don’t do that now, but I sort of liked it that way.”

Theriault eventually was promoted to lieutenant with the Rumford Police Department, but he quickly discovered that the position did not provide the financial stability required to take care of a six-member family.

“I actually left the lieutenant’s position so I could go back on the street,” Theriault said. “I discovered that I was the lowest-paid person on the department as lieutenant, and I just couldn’t afford to stay there. The funny thing is, two months after I left the lieutenant’s position, the chief that worked there at the time retired. If I would’ve stayed as lieutenant, there’s a pretty good possibility I could’ve gotten the position of chief.”

Theriault said he didn’t regret leaving the position. He’s glad he came to Mexico.

He was hired at the Mexico Police Department in 1982, though he was quickly laid off in 1984 due to budget constraints.

In 1992, Greg Gallant, the Mexico chief of police at the time, rehired Theriault.

“During the year and a half I spent in Mexico the first time around, within six months, I had made sergeant,” Theriault said. “They hadn’t had a sergeant over here for 10 years prior to that. When I got laid off, they didn’t reappoint anyone to that position, so when I came back, Greg gave me my stripes back.”

It wasn’t long before Theriault left the sergeant’s position and replaced Gallant, who retired in December 1992.

“I actually didn’t mind giving up the street stuff,” Theriault said. “As a chief, it’s really hard to do all the administrative work you’re required to do and respond to calls at the same time. Once I became chief, I welcomed the desk work.”

Theriault was instrumental in organizing the Police Explorers program, along with Hodsdon, in 2007.

Theriault praised the Police Explorers and the “young adults” who have been involved with it over the years.

“The River Valley community just loves them,” Theriault said. “They give to the Explorers, and the Explorers give back to them. We’re trying to teach them life skills, not just police skills.”

Following his retirement, Theriault will remain with the Mexico Police Department as a reserve officer.

“I have mixed feelings about retiring, but if I were to tell my guys tomorrow that I was thinking of staying on, I think one of them would shoot me,” Theriault joked.

Part of his duties as a reserve officer may entail patrolling the ATV trails in the region.

“The Warden Service pays us a set amount of money in the form of grants to do ATV patrols,” Theriault said. “The department has two machines, and basically, we ride around and make sure that all the riders are legal, that the kids are wearing helmets and people aren’t destroying landowners’ property. I’m looking forward to doing that.”

Outside the Police Department, Theriault said he’ll have plenty to keep him busy.

“There’s a house I bought two years ago that I’m restoring, so I’ll have time to do that,” he said. “I still own the campground at Roxbury Pond. There’s all kinds of puttering to do up there. Plus, I belong to the ATV clubs in Rumford and Roxbury, so there’s always a lot of work to do on the trails. I might even go to Florida with my wife to see her sister and her sister’s husband.”

Don’t expect Theriault to migrate to Florida anytime soon, though.

“Maine’s where I want to stay,” Theriault said. “There’s no mudslides, no tornadoes, no out-of-this-world forest fires. I like the state of Maine. The cold doesn’t bother me.”

He quickly added, “Yet,” and laughed.

Theriault added that he would be spending a lot of time with his wife, Mary, whom he called “a pretty terrific lady, and my best friend.”

With one day separating Theriault from retirement, he said it hadn’t quite hit him yet.

“I think it’s going to hit me hardest on Monday, when I wake up to go to work and I don’t have to,” Theriault said. “It’s going to be really emotional.”

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