Former Beckley police chief passes away

Beckley Police Chief Billy Cole talks during a 2007 interview in his office in Beckley. Cole retired after 42 1/2 years as a Beckley police officer — 18 1/2 of those years as chief. The Register-Herald, file photo

Billy Cole, a former Beckley police chief who retired in 2007 after 42 1/2 years as a Beckley police officer, with 18 1/2 of those years as chief, passed away Saturday at 75. 

The late Beckley mayor Emmett Pugh, who passed away earlier this year, appointed Cole to the chief’s position in 1989. 

Cole told The Register-Herald in 2007 he was 21 when he was hired as a police officer. He had graduated from Trap Hill High School just three years before. He said he was working at Beckley Feed and Hardware when a man saw a newspaper ad for new police officers and encouraged Cole to apply. 

“I was from Fairdale and Trap Hill High School, and I didn’t know anyone in Beckley,” he said. “I didn’t think I had a chance. I turned it in, took the civil service test, and I became a policeman.”

When Cole began his career as an officer, he said, there were only 17 other officers. When he retired from the chief's position in 2007, they had 48.

While Cole had several cases under his belt as police chief, he told The Register-Herald it was when he was a detective that a case stood out to him the most — being the lead investigator of the murder of Sgt. David Lilly, who was shot and killed in May 1975 by Ronald Williams.

“Even though you may be the lead investigator, you have a ton of people involved,” he said. “It’s not just one guy. It’s the whole department and other departments who help.”

In 2007, he said a “cold case” still burned in his mind — the August 1981 murder of Cynthia Miller, a 27-year-old math teacher at Park Junior High School. Cole said he had always hoped he would be able to clear the case for Miller's father.

Just before his retirement, Cole said he wished the citizens of Beckley well. 

“It has been a joy to serve them,” he said. “I have made a lot of friends, and I enjoy working with them. Obviously, if I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t have stuck with it for 42 years. I really appreciate the support they have given me."

It was clear to many Cole enjoyed his job in law enforcement.

Gary Sutphin, who was the City of Beckley's treasurer during Cole's time as police chief, worked by his side for nearly 18 years. 

"During that time we became really close friends, and all of the department heads loved him," Sutphin said. "I mean, how could you not?" 

He said Cole's life was his job, and he was always 100 percent dedicated to his work. 

"For someone to have spent as much time in law enforcement has he did, that just goes to show you the love he had for his job, and the love he had for where he lived," Sutphin said. "He will be greatly missed."

Frank Priddy, a current detective at Beckley Police Department, began working under Cole in 2001. He called Cole "old-school," and said it was something he admired most. 

"He took care of the guys that worked for him. The way he managed the department and those who worked for him, it was incredible. He carried so much love for those who did beyond what was expected of them," Priddy added. 

Cole had a passion for keeping the people of Beckley safe, Priddy said, and was as straight-forward as they come. 

"He always urged us to do better, and I admired that." 

Email:; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH 

React to this story: