‘I can’t give it up’: 90-year-old Va. Capitol Police employee marks 76 years of public service

Capitol Connection
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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — While many people are counting down the days to retirement, it’s the furthest thing from Joe Vass’s mind.

At 90 years old, he’s the inventory supply officer with the Virginia Division of Capitol Police.

He’s held the role since 2011, but this is his 76th year of public service. 

From the Navy to the Marines to law enforcement, Vass has dedicated his life to serving others. 

“They say, well when are you going to retire?” said Vass. “I say, when they put me in the ground, I’ll wave and thank them for the vacation.” 

Until then, Vass roams the halls of his office waving to his coworkers. 

“Pretty much every morning we know when Joe’s here because he comes walking around the cubicles and just checking, ‘Everybody happy?'” said Joe Macenka. “He’s the Energizer bunny.”

Macenka, the Public Information Officer for the Division of Capitol Police, said the whole team is glad Vass has no plans to call it quits. 

“He’s a real dose of perspective, no matter what profession or walk of life you’re in,” said Macenka. “How many people can say they’ve done one thing, anything, for 76 years?”

Vass said he owes his youthfulness to keeping busy. 

He can only think of one time he slowed down — just a little bit.

In 1954, he had a quintuple bypass.

“I almost died that day,” said Vass. “I’m very fortunate.”

After three days of recovery, he asked the nurse when he could leave the hospital. 

She told him when he could walk down the hallway and back, he’d be released. 

“So the next day, I walked that hallway and back and went home,” said Vass. 

And, inevitably, back to work. 

Vass said the right mindset can make all the difference when it comes to career longevity. 

“Put your whole heart into doing what you say you’re going to do,” he said. “We’ve got such a terrible way of going today. We need more people who really want to work for the people, not for themselves. That’s the way my whole life has been.” 

It’s what motivates him to get up each day and head into the office.

That, and his brand new cherry red Mustang he drives to work.

“Makes you feel young,” he said with a laugh. “I love it.” 

WEB EXTRA: Watch the video below to learn more about Vass’s wife and the one disagreement they have (hint: it’s not the Mustang but another preferred set of wheels). 

Biography from the Division of Capitol Police

Joe Vass, since 2011 the inventory and supply officer for the Virginia Capitol Police, turned 90 earlier this year. He celebrated his birthday pretty much like he has every day for literally decade after decade after decade – at work and in cheerful service to others.

Now in his 76th year of public service, Vass has a smile and a kind word for everyone and is quick with jokes, a cheerful man whose formative years came at a time our nation was locked in a costly, deadly conflict overseas.

The United States was deep into World War II when Vass was a teenager, and at age 15, he joined the Virginia Protective Force, was given a Thompson sub-machine gun and instructed to use it while guarding ammunition storage facilities. By the age of 16, Vass estimated, he had played the bugle at roughly 100 funerals for U.S. service personnel killed in the war.

He enlisted in the Navy when he was still just 16 and served on three destroyers that saw heavy action in the war.

Two years after World War II ended, he left the Navy and joined the Marines, serving from 1947-55, mainly in Korea. He was wounded by a grenade and hospitalized for three months. His injuries typically would have earned him a trip home, but Vass convinced the hospital staff to “revise” his chart so he could rejoin his unit. Of the roughly 3,000 members of his battalion who went to Korea, only about 30 made it home after casualties, illness, injuries and desertions.

Vass was selected to attend a prep school in 1946 to get him ready for admission to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., but the program was canceled when the war ended.

Undeterred, Vass devoted his post-war life to law enforcement, joining the Henrico Police Department in 1955. Over the following decades, he worked for various departments and served as the security chief for the University of Richmond and Richmond Airport, and the police chief for the towns of Poquoson and Boykins.

Vass also wore an Air Force uniform from 1957-62 as a security police staff sergeant, an Army uniform as a member of the Virginia Defense Force, and he was also a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Married to Barbara “Bobbie” Vass since 1950, Vass remains active in a number of law enforcement and military support organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Marine Corps League.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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