NEW PORT RICHEY — He wore a navy suit, his ostrich cowboy boots and the Texas Rangers lapel pin President George W. Bush gave him. At his last news conference as Pasco County sheriff Wednesday, Bob White sat at the head of a long, oval table at the agency's headquarters in New Port Richey and referenced The Lion King, paraphrased President John F. Kennedy and said he's excited for whatever this next chapter brings his way.
"It's the first time in my life that I get to do what I want to do," said White, 60, who told reporters he's been continuously working since he was 11 and washing cars in Texas. "Think about that for a minute. Have you ever been able to do what you wanted to do?
"Of course, the only caveat is that I'm married," he said with a laugh. "So I will do what we want me to do."
White, first elected in 2000, announced his plans to retire in March. Saturday is his last day. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Chris Nocco, 35, to serve White's remaining term until the 2012 election. White hired Nocco in 2009 as a captain and promoted him to major just before announcing his retirement. Nocco had been chief of staff at the Florida Highway Patrol for two years and served as an aide to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio when he was speaker of the Florida House.
White said he didn't ask the governor to pick Nocco — he said he just urged Scott to pick someone from his command staff, meaning either Nocco or Major Brian Head, who oversees the jail. White said he warned members of his command staff about the stress of the job before they applied.
"I said, 'Don't step into this arena unless you have a fire in your belly to serve,' " White said he told his administration. "It's not for the faint of heart."
White said Scott made an excellent choice.
"Chris Nocco is a dynamic young man," White said.
White said he was retiring so he could spend more time with his granddaughter, who is nearly 2.
Few believe him.
Rumors swirl that he has plans to accept a job with Scott's administration.
"I don't have a crystal ball," he said. "But I will tell you that the reason I am retiring has absolutely nothing to do with Rick Scott. It has nothing to do with a pending position in the governor's office. If I were going to run a law enforcement agency, I would stay right here."
He said his worst moment on the job was when Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison was murdered while on duty in Lacoochee on June 1, 2003. Harrison was 56, had served with the agency for 31 years and was 15 days from retirement.
"That was by far the hardest time," White said.
He said he is proud of the agency and its talented, hardworking staff.
"Law enforcement is not a Chia Pet," he said. "You don't pour water on it and it grows overnight."
White said he doesn't have any regrets.
"Did you see the movie The Lion King?" White asked. "Do you remember when the monkey hit the lion on the nose with the scepter? The lion says, 'What'd you do that for?' And the monkey says, 'What does it matter? It's in the past.'
"Looking back is a waste of time," White continued. "I think it was John Kennedy who said, 'If you are looking at the past and the present, you are wasting the future.' "
White, who worked road patrol in Brooksville and Sumter as a young state trooper, has been known to pull over suspected impaired drivers. He was asked if he'll miss it. "I'm sort of hanging up my spurs, you know," he said. "Of course, if I see somebody doing something really bad, you never know what I'm liable to do."
He wants the people of Pasco to know how sincerely thankful he is for the opportunity to be their sheriff.
"To be chosen three times in a row by the citizens of your county is just an enormous honor and one that I have an incredible amount of gratitude for," White said. "Thank you seems like such an impotent term in times like this, but it can't be omitted.
"So I would say thank you."
He said his office is almost packed up. The swearing-in ceremony for Nocco is Sunday morning. That afternoon, White plans to be out on his lanai, drinking Dunkin' Donuts coffee and watching ducks on the lake. He's not the boss anymore.
"I'm now the old guy who shows up every now and then for lunches and things," he said.
Though he's keeping the trademark ostrich cowboy boots.
"Oh sure," he said. "You can take Texas out of the boy, but you can't take the boy out of Texas. Or, you can take … Oh you know what I mean. You get it."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.