Former fire chief, radio station manager dies

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By Brian Funk, Editor

Joe Crockett, a longtime firefighter and station manager of Galax's WBOB-AM, died on Nov. 8 at the age of 88.

Joseph Pierce Crockett is remembered as the driving force behind the modern Galax Volunteer Fire Department, to which he dedicated nearly 60 years of his life — 32 of those as chief.

He was a civic-minded man with a passion for the fire department and the annual “Galax Community Christmas Party” charity event.

Crockett was in the radio business in Galax for 38 years, during which he served as station manager of WBOB — now WWWJ-AM.

Before that, Crockett served his country in the U.S. Navy during World War II, alongside brothers Samuel (a soldier in the U.S. Army) and Buford (a U.S. Marine).

Crockett had been in failing health, and was a resident of Golden Living Center in Galax at the time of his death.

Harvey Hennis, a former assistant chief and 45-year veteran firefighter, said Crockett was affectionately known as the “Great White Father” of the department because of his wisdom and experience.

“If he thought we needed a piece of equipment to save lives or property, he would see that we got it,” Hennis said. “This department was always the first thing on his mind.”

Crockett turned Galax into one of the best fire departments in Virginia through an emphasis on training, excellence and respect, Hennis said. “He got us the best trainers in the state, and he really looked out for the men. When you put on that uniform, he wanted it to look perfect. He'd say, 'You look sharp,'”

Crockett's name graces the fire department's training facility off Glendale Road in Galax, and the Joe P. Crockett Regional Fire Training Center is known as one of the best such facilities in Southwest Virginia.

In fact, Crockett established training certification as a departmental qualification before there were state requirements.

Hennis said Crockett was the fire department in the eyes of the community for decades. “People respected Joe. He was proud of the department and he believed in it.”

In a prior interview, former Galax Fire Chief Mike Coomes credited the fire department’s growth and success to Crockett. “Joe would be the founding father of the Galax Volunteer Fire Department. He made it what it is today.”

Crockett worked with former Galax City Manager W.G. Andrews to build the first firehouse, promoted the longevity of the volunteer fire service through recruitment and retention programs and maintained fundraising events to support the department.

Crockett also served as an officer for both the Virginia Firefighters Association and the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association.

Fire Chief David Hankley said Crockett led by example, in terms of his work ethic and dedication, and was truly a member of America's “Greatest Generation.”

“He was a leader that saw beyond the present and planned for the future,” Hankley said. “There are few things that we have today — whether it be equipment, training or dedication — that doesn't have Joe's fingerprints on it.”

Hankley said Crockett was “an anchor that held fast” in spite of any problems the department encountered. “We will miss his wisdom, his leadership and his friendship."

Former WBOB-AM radio personality Roger Poole fondly remembers his 25 years working under Crockett. “He was one of the finest gentlemen I've ever known, and one of the best managers.”

Poole said he probably caused Crockett some headaches when he joined the station as a DJ in 1961, but “he pretty much raised me in those early years and kept me straight.”

Poole remembers Crockett as a fair person “who you could always count on for truthfulness and fairness. You always knew where you stood with Joe.”

In those nearly four decades at the station, Crockett got a lot of people started, including Herm Reavis, who went on to become a major personality in the Roanoke radio market.

A funeral for Crockett was held Tuesday, with special rites conducted by the fire department.

Members traditionally turn out in dress uniforms and the department's 1930s-era fire engine bears the casket to the cemetery for a graveside service. Crockett was to be buried at Felts Cemetery in Galax.