Sheriff's sergeant taught friends, family about life

Ron Bushey taught family and friends as much about living as he did about dying in the months before he succumbed to Lou Gehrig's disease last October.

It was the retired Douglas County Sheriff's sergeant's way to teach and mentor, and the disease that took his life was no exception.

"He thought it was a calling," said his wife, Gail Bushey. "He had to make other people feel comfortable with it."

He worked with other patients diagnosed with the fatal neuromuscular disease through a support group, welcomed visitors to the Busheys' home in Saratoga Springs, and ate pie - lots of pie.

After his death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on Oct. 18, Gail Bushey said she received cards and condolences from Barton Hospice workers who had been touched by her husband's kindness and good spirits during the end stages of his life.

Instead of a funeral, she promised her husband of 30 years "an old-fashioned Irish wake."

She rented the M.S. Dixie and for two hours on a brilliant October afternoon, 250 family members, friends and colleagues remembered the veteran law enforcement officer who considered police work a vocation, not a profession.

"I wanted people to have something pleasant. I couldn't cope with a boo-hoo fest," she said. "People walked around and told stories and visited. Some of them had never been on the Dixie before. It was a wonderful afternoon and being on the Lake helped put things in perspective."

Retired DCSO Sgt. Tim Minister toasted his old friend, but there were no sad eulogies or tearful testimonials. She brought lots of pictures of her husband, but none of him in his wheelchair.

"I wanted people to remember him the way he was," she said. "I didn't want the disease to define him."

Bushey said her husband was the "classic ALS patient," from his diagnosis at age 50 to his death 18 months later.

For some of the Busheys' acquaintances, it was too painful to watch the disease run its course as he declined from a 240-pound man who wore an 80-pound backpack while climbing the peaks behind his house.

"He wasn't the person they remembered and it hurt too much, so they didn't come around anymore," she said.

Often, ALS is a missed diagnosis, Bushey said.

Her husband's first symptom was a sore thumb.

"I thought it might be carpal tunnel syndrome," she said.

There is no cure for ALS and the Busheys learned there are 100 ways the disease can go. Their focus was to try to stay ahead of it.

"One week you're walking, the next you're not," she said.

In order to keep insurance benefits, Gail Bushey continued her job at Carson Middle School where she teaches seventh-grade science.

The Busheys middle son, David, 26, left graduate school in Arizona to help care for his father.

Gail Bushey took leave toward the end of September to be with her husband in his final days.

Bushey worked for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office for 11 years, loved detective work, but asked to be reassigned to the jail as his disease progressed.

"He never put himself or anyone in danger," she said. "For the first few months, no one knew there was anything wrong."

He retired on disability in November 2004.

"Law enforcement was his life from the first time he rode in his father's patrol car as a child," she said.

Bushey was born in Alturas, Calif., where his grandfather and father served as fish and game wardens.

"He always wanted to be a cop," Gail Bushey said.

They met when he was in the police academy and she was a student at Chico State. The Busheys celebrated their 30th anniversary in June with a date at the movies.

"For people truly in law enforcement, it's what they are and who they are. It's part of their soul," Gail Bushey said.

"He was such a natural mentor. He had a way of teaching other cops and I never heard him repeat the same joke twice. He had a phenomenal mind. When he was a senior in high school, he won a full scholarship to University of California, Davis, but he wanted to become a cop."

She occasionally counsels young officers' spouses about what lies ahead.

"You have to be OK with the whole thing. You have to have your own life and your own support system," she said. "There's so much work and shift work. When he was detective, I might not see him for days."

For Bushey, police work was an avocation, not a profession.

"He loved it," she said.

The law enforcement legacy is continuing with the Busheys' son Scott, 29, a member of the California Highway Patrol. Jeff, 19, is a student at Western Nevada Community College.

Gail Bushey divided her husband's remains in three wood boxes she gave her children. One box is made of oak, one mahogany and one cherry.

Each son is to scatter ashes at one of his father's favorite places - the Ruby Mountains, Thousand Lakes Wilderness at Lassen National Forest and the Tahoe Rim Trail.

The inside of the box is inscribed with one of Ron Bushey's favorite sayings to his sons and the Boy Scouts he mentored over the years:

"You can hike and cry at the same time."

Even through the most difficult months, Gail Bushey said she and her husband focused on making each day count.

"We had a wonderful marriage. He was a great father and husband and a police officer. And that's what I want people to remember," she said.


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