Several years ago, during our summer stay at our home in Lake Placid, N.Y., my wife and I took the “Cloudsplitter” gondola up to the top of Little Whiteface Mountain, an Adirondack peak more than 4,000 feet high. Another sightseer joined us.
We chatted during the 15-minute ride. Responding to our questions, we learned that she used to be a police officer in Tampa and together with her husband, also a police officer, they decided to make their retirement home in nearby Wilmington, a tiny village at the foot of the larger Whiteface Mountain.
She told us about the challenges they faced adjusting to country life. After reaching the top of the mountain, we parted ways.
The next day, talking about our conversation with the woman in the gondola, my wife suggested I write a column about her life and times. After all, as she told us, during her 26 years of service with the Tampa police department, she never used her service revolver. She always managed to resolve conflicts without the use of deadly force.
I agreed, a column would be a good idea. But, I didn’t know her name and couldn’t get in touch with her.
I have recently received the Lake Placid News in the mail. On the front page was a large photo of our unnamed companion from the gondola. She was sitting on a rock overlooking the Ausable River, one of the most scenic and best trout-fishing streams in the Eastern United States.
She was called the “River Keeper.” The article, written by Antonio Olivero, described how the Flume Falls, one of the area’s most popular swimming holes, often become garbage-laced during the summer. He quoted her, who I learned was named Diane Kirby, saying, ”Yesterday morning was bad. They must have had a real big party here Saturday night.”
Kirby, as a volunteer, started her “cleaning binge” some eight years ago. Most summer days, she comes to Flume Falls to pick up the garbage left behind by picnickers. After a busy weekend, there can be as much as 30 cases of empty beer cans and bottles.
In a recent email, she wrote: “I am putting a heating pad on my lower back after picking up trash for three hours yesterday.”
But what I wanted to talk about with Kirby was not about garbage. What intrigued me was how a girl who graduated from Lake Placid high school in 1974 become the first female sergeant in the Larceny and Forgery department of the Tampa police.
“I was a legal secretary in the city attorney’s office in Tampa, Fla., 21 years old, and found that sitting in the office all day long wasn’t for me,” Kirby wrote in an email. “The Tampa Police Department had openings. I took the tests, did very well. After I finished the police academy, I was assigned to patrol duty. “
She answered police calls that involved everything from traffic accidents to shootings. Most supervisors didn’t treat her differently than the male officers. “It was a good job with benefits and there was always something different going on. I loved it.”
In 2004, Tampa experienced three hurricanes; her adopted son needed extra help and her daughter, now living in the North Country, had a child. “So, considering the heat, hurricanes and humidity, my husband and I decided to move to Wilmington, N.Y.”
Since arriving 12 years ago, Diane Kirby has become the River Keeper, while her husband, Robert, has been a Town of Wilmington town justice for the past nine years.
“My son received an excellent education at the Lake Placid schools,” she said. “He is currently in a boot camp with the Marines on Parris Island. I am just so proud of him, He is continuing my life of serving, and that’s cool.”
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.