Published Monday, Oct. 20, 1997
Marriott bids adieu to career as top cop
By Karen Coates
Herald Staff Writer
There were no big parties or welcome wagons when John Marriott first left his New Jersey home for Hermitage in November 1976.
But after spending 21 years as Hermitage Police Chief and an additional 16 years in the police work, some residents may be surprised to see him go.
At 56, Marriott announced earlier this month that he will be retiring from his position as chief of police to travel with his 50-year-old wife Donna. His retirement will begin Dec. 19.
``People ask me why I'm retiring, and I say `Why not?' I want to travel when I'm able to do so,'' he said. ``And after 37 years, I think its time.''
Marriott, a father of five and grandfather of seven, says he and his wife plan on traveling during the winter months to several state parks in Florida and Texas in their fifth-wheel RV. The couple will spend the rest of the year at their 27-acre home in Hermitage.
``This is my home,'' he explains. ``This is where my children were raised. I don't think people realize it or appreciate it sometimes.''
And for Marriott, what a contrast it has been.
Growing up in Upper Montclair in Wessex County, about 20 minutes from downtown Manhattan, Marriott says he spent most of his time getting in trouble with the law.
``I was a bad kid. I was on juvenile probation and I quit high school,'' he said. ``But there was a cop _ John Hess _ that befriended me.
``One day he looked at me when I was in trouble for one of the last times and you know what he said? `You know you're not good at this crime stuff.' And I kind of looked at him and I knew he was sincere.''
``Between him and the military,'' Marriott says frankly. ``He saved my life.'''
After earning his high school diploma while he trained in the military police academy of the Air Force, he spent four years juggling his professional and private lives. He was taking classes at Union College and serving as assistant manager of an apartment complex when he began his position as badge No. 43 with the Plainfield, N.J., police.
For 12 years he moved up in the ranks to vice squad commander, watching as three of his fellow police officers died in city riots. Along the way he met Donna, an emergency room nurse, while he was on duty.
Feeling as though he had accomplished all he could in Plainfield, Marriott said he began to look for a new job and just happened upon the Hermitage opening.
The farmland, said Mrs. Marriott, drew him to what was then Hickory Township. It would give him the chance to garden, farm and experiment, she said.
``He was always trying something,'' she said. And ``I just went along.''
Mrs. Marriott is also retiring this year from her job at the emergency room of Horizon Hospital System, Shenango Valley, Farrell.
Being the first outsider hired as chief of police in the township, Marriott wasn't received with open arms by everyone.
His forthright attitude _ which he says many people describe as lacking any gray area _ was something some found hard to accept, especially when he closed a carnival behind Kennedy Christian High School and forbid tickets for a duck race to be sold in Hermitage before it was legal.
``The law is the law. I don't show favoritism,'' he said. ``I treat them the same whether they're a pillar in the community or an everyday Joe or Jane.''
It's that attitude which bewilders most people, his wife said, especially when they see his creative or experimental side. Mrs. Marriott pointed to the walls filled with paintings, his 250-plus cookie jar collection and a tractor parked outside as evidence of his unique interests.
But his most inspiring work, she says, is as a marriage enrichment counselor. That work stemmed from their participation in their Methodist church group.
Marriott has carried that over into his own part-time career.
``He has a natural gift,'' she said with tears in her eyes. ``I've enjoyed sitting back all these years and watching him.''
And his list of accomplishments has added up.
During his time as chief, Marriott has helped promote the development of businesses in Hermitage with road planning, given lectures on stress management to police officers, helped get defibrillators and on-board computers for cruisers and served as the first Safety Code Officer in the city _ an unpaid position he has served for the past seven years.
It has been a job well done, said City Manager Hinkson, who worked with Marriott for about 17 years.
``We'll miss him here,'' he said. ``He's been good for the city police. There is never hesitation. He has provided structure and leadership in the police department and we have learned a good deal.''
With a note of assurance, Marriott said that a good police force should not need him when he's gone.
``I've been here long enough,'' he says, cracking a grin. ``It's time for someone else's ideas to come here. Besides, I want to go out at the top of my game.''
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Updated Oct. 20, 1997
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