Longtime deputy sheriff: ‘Show respect and you’ll get respect back’

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PORTLAND — It’s unusual for a process server to get hugs from those he’s tracked down and subpoenaed.

But that was the reaction Tom Caron often got during his long career with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

Caron, who lives in Portland and grew up in Westbrook, was recently honored with a legislative sentiment lauding his 56 years of working for the sheriff, serving papers in matters mostly dealing with debt recovery.

His secret?

“I was always taught to show respect and you’ll get respect back,” he said in an interview. “I also always tried be polite and never looked down on anyone. I always just told them I have a job to do.”

In recalling his own interactions with Caron, state Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, the former sheriff for Cumberland County, said he would never forget Caron’s ready smile or the ever-present twinkle in his eye.

Caron worked for the Sheriff’s Office on nights and weekends, when it was easier to catch people at home, while also holding down a full-time job at the Shaw’s Distribution Center in Wells.

“I always wanted to be an FBI agent, but I just didn’t have the education to do it,” Caron said. That’s why he jumped at the chance to join the Sheriff’s Office in 1961.

He said service to the community was just part of his DNA.

Two of Caron’s uncles and one of his brothers were officers with the Westbrook Police Department, he said. In addition, Caron also served in the Army from 1954 to 1956 and spent a total of eight years in the Maine National Guard.

Caron, who is now 85, officially retired from the Sheriff’s Office in early July, but is looking for a part-time job that will keep him occupied two to three days a week.

He said he “really misses” working and still wakes up in the morning expecting to get up and go to work.

“I’m too young to retire,” Caron said. “My doctors say I’m in great shape. It’s all about keeping active and keeping your mind occupied.”

Even though he wasn’t ready to leave the Sheriff’s Office, Caron said his three sons are relieved he’s no longer going out at night to serve papers, especially with violence toward officers on the rise.

Caron said he was never particularly concerned about his safety, even though he would sometimes be threatened.

He never carried a gun. If an attorney thought he might run into trouble serving a subpoena they would warn Caron, who would then get a police detail to accompany him.

Caron is from a family of 15; he and a younger brother are the only surviving siblings. None of his sons have children of their own, which Caron said was a real disappointment to his wife, Jody, who wanted to be a grandmother.

She died eight years ago, and Caron said he still visits her grave every day, no matter the weather.

When Caron first asked Jody to marry him, she invoked her Italian heritage and said she was a secretary in the Mafia so he should be careful about stepping out of line.

“I never, ever got the last word with her,” he said laughing, “and I was always on the lookout for a hit man.”

Being from a large family, Caron said he dropped out of high school to begin earning his own money so his parents wouldn’t have to support him.

Even though he didn’t have a high school diploma, Caron was able to attend the Cambridge School of Radio and TV Broadcasting in Boston.

After graduation, he would often DJ at record hops. He also did a lot of local broadcasting on the radio, including Sunday morning religious shows and variety shows.

He met the Cumberland County sheriff at a dance and the sheriff, knowing he had family members working as police officers, told Caron to “come down and interview.”

Caron’s his first job was, ironically, serving a subpoena to a local judge, who initially refused to take the papers and then said he would call Caron’s supervisors to complain. Undaunted, Caron told him to go right ahead.

When Caron was in the Army, he was stationed in New York City, which gave him a chance to further his interest in and love of broadcasting.

He recalled that nearly every night he would head out to a live broadcast of the evening variety shows that were on television at the time.

He was such a regular at “The Garry Moore Show,” which helped launch the careers of people like Carol Burnett, that he was given a seat in the front row.

“I got to meet a lot of TV stars,” Caron recalled. But his most memorable moment was an encounter with Marilyn Monroe.

He was able to get tickets to the premiere of one of her movies and was still sitting in the theater, watching the credits roll, when Monroe came down the aisle and said, “Hi, soldier.”

“She talked nicely with me for about 10 minutes and I got to see Joe Dimaggio, too,” but to Caron’s everlasting chagrin he met Monroe on one of the only nights he didn’t have a camera with him, so he could never prove he had indeed met the star.

“No matter where I went or what I was doing, I always just loved meeting people,” he said.

That’s partly why it meant so much to serve as the president of the Westbrook Eagles Club in the late 1980s and commander of Westbrook’s American Legion Post No. 62 in 2000.

Caron was totally unprepared for the legislative honor he received Aug. 2 and said he was “shaking like a leaf” by the time he realized he was being recognized by the full Maine Senate.

“At first I didn’t know what I was there for and then (Dion) gave a beautiful speech about the 10 years we worked together and all 35 senators shook my hand,” he said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Tom Caron, of Portland, worked as a process server in the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office for 56 years. Even at 85 he felt too young to retire.