A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, with the Rev. Adrian Pleus, the Rev. Scotty Davis and Dr. Ernest Easley officiating.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-east Cobb) had high praise for Hightower.
“Bob Hightower meant more to our community than probably any single individual that I can remember,” Isakson said. “He led our law enforcement during the exponential growth years of Cobb County. He was very approachable, very proactive in preventing crime, not just in following up on crime. He’s a leader in safety that will be dearly missed by the community.”
Born in Havana, Fla., Hightower joined the U.S. Navy in 1952 and served as a member of Underwater Demolition Teams 2 & 21. He worked with the Identification Division of the FBI for about a year and served with the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Police Department for almost seven years.
Hightower moved to Georgia in 1963, working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for about nine years and rising to the rank of captain. He was appointed as the public safety director over the Cobb County Police Department in 1972 and as director of the Cobb Department of Public Safety in 1993.
County Manager David Hankerson described the department as a way to tie the fire, police and 911 operations together.
“In the time of an incident, whether it’s a local disaster, regional disaster, statewide disaster, communication, training, working together, getting to know each other was so important, and that was the basis behind it, yet we tried to eliminate some duplication, administrative stuff and equipment by doing that consolidation,” Hankerson said.
Hankerson said Hightower gave him motivation and guidance.
“He was a little bit older than I and had been with Cobb County longer than I had, and his integrity, his honesty, he led by example, and the Hightower that you saw at 6 o’clock at night was the same Hightower you saw at 1 o’clock during the day,” Hankerson said. “He was a strong, ethical man, he led by example, and I miss that the most about him. He never changed, even after retirement, and he’s the same Hightower.”
Hightower retired from Cobb County in 1999, accepting an appointment from former Gov. Roy Barnes as colonel of the Georgia State Patrol.
“It saddens me greatly on the death of Bob,” Barnes said. “Bob was one my best and closest friends who I’d known for well over 40 years.”
Barnes said he first met Hightower when he was an assistant district attorney and Hightower was a GBI agent.
“If you had a dictionary that said ‘great law man,’ it would have a picture of Bob Hightower by it,” Barnes said. “He was a straight shooter. He showed no favoritism toward anybody. He was tough, but he was fair, and I think we’ve lost a great citizen of this county and of this state.”
In 2000, Hightower was appointed to the newly created position of commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. In late 2001, he became the first chairman of the Georgia Homeland Security Task Force as part of his Department of Public Safety responsibilities, serving Barnes in these positions until 2003.
Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren said he first met Hightower in 1972 when he was appointed Cobb County Police Department chief. The two attended the FBI Academy together in 1982.
“Over the years, we developed a very close professional law enforcement relationship, and I would never hesitate to contact him for his opinion or advice — just like he would call me if he had concerns,” Warren said. “Bob was well-respected and liked in the public safety community. He was a no-nonsense type of person, and you knew where he stood on an issue.”
Warren said when he ran for sheriff there were two people in law enforcement whose opinions he valued and who gave him the courage, confidence and support to seek office. One was former Sheriff Bill Hutson, and the other was Hightower.
“Bob was a family man, and regardless of his professional commitments, his wife, Shirley, and his children meant the world to him,” Warren said. “It was a privilege having the opportunity to work with someone of his caliber, and he will be missed by his fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement, the citizens of Cobb County, his friends and his family.”
Cobb State Court Judge Irma Glover said she came to know Hightower as county attorney in 1979.
“I never minded going to court representing the Cobb County Police Department because if Mr. Hightower had been involved and the people that had worked with him had been involved I knew that their testimony was going to be completely reliable, I didn’t have to worry about that. Their records would be perfect. He just was a perfectionist,” Glover said.
Glover also recalled Hightower’s sense of humor and how he liked to talk about living in the south Georgia city of Attapulgus.
“He said, ‘Attapulgus had a tornado go through that did about $100,000 in improvements.’ You couldn’t out-one line him,” Glover said.
Lance LoRusso, an attorney for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police, came to know Hightower while working at the Cobb Police Department in 1988.
“He was first and foremost a leader who dedicated his life to public service in every form,” LoRusso said. “He was probably one of the most outgoing people and caring people that I’ve ever met. If he found a person who was in any circumstance that he had an opportunity to touch them by talking with them or helping them in any way, he did not miss a chance to do so.”
Earl Smith, who served as county chairman from 1985 to 1988, said Hightower was involved in forming the county’s annual prayer breakfast.
“He was a great leader, I think he was a leader that arrived on the scene in Cobb County at the right time, when a lot of things where changing,” Smith said. “I don’t know that we had anything tainted going on, but we may have had some things that were marginal, and I think he came on and he put order in our public safety. He put cooperation between departments in our public safety, and I think he was able to help the Board of Commissioners maintain the budget for that.”
Hutson, who served as sheriff from 1977 to 2003, said he regretted hearing that Hightower had died.
“He’s a good law enforcement office and definitely had a great career in law enforcement,” Hutson said.
In June, the Board of Commissioners held a ceremony renaming Cobb Police headquarters the Robert E. Hightower Cobb County Police Headquarters.
“It is my hope that in the 27 years I was here, that I, or some police officer, did something that impacted your life the way this ceremony has impacted mine,” Hightower said at the time. “Success is being able to look back on your career and be able to tell yourself, ‘I did it, and I did it right and I have no apologies.’ I was able to do that.”
Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Shirley Hightower of St. Simmons; daughter, Kimberly Hightower-Hulsey and husband, Bobby of Studio City, Calif.; two sons, Robert E. Hightower, Jr. & wife, Kelly of Houston, Texas; Lance Hightower & wife, Angela of Dallas, Ga.; one sister, Wanda Eibling of Highpoint, N.C.; eight grandchildren; two great grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in his name to the Navy Seal Foundation, 1619D Street, Bldg. 5326, Virginia Beach, VA 23459; e-mail: email@example.com. or to the Navy Seal Museum, 3300 North Hwy. A1A, Ft. Pierce, Fla. 34949; web: www.navysealmusuem.org or call (772) 595-5845, ext. 202.
Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home & Crematory in Marietta will be in charge of the arrangements.