The State Worker

After 50 years in CHP cafeteria, longtime cook still gets a thrill from coming to work

Richard Lomax of Sacramento has worked and volunteered at the California Highway Patrol Academy since 1966.
Richard Lomax of Sacramento has worked and volunteered at the California Highway Patrol Academy since 1966.

Richard Lomax’s days in retirement look a lot like the ones he notched over his 43-year-career serving rookie cadets in the cafeteria at the California Highway Patrol Academy in West Sacramento.

Seven years into retirement, he’s still at the academy several days a week as a volunteer helping the cafeteria run smoothly. He feels a lift coming back to the place where he watched generations of officers mature.

“When I drive in that gate, I still get the rush I felt 30 years ago,” said Lomax, 70.

On Wednesday, the CHP thanked Lomax for what now amounts to a 50-year run as an employee and volunteer in the academy cafeteria.

It hosted a ceremony for him that peaked with a presentation from CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow, an officer Lomax has known for decades.

“Everybody on the force today has come through my watch, from the commissioner on down,” Lomax said.

Lomax joined the CHP at age 19. He was new to California and looking for work. He liked the idea of working as a cook and found a niche at the academy.

Over the years, he and his late wife, Jonell Lomax, raised four kids. He retired at age 63, but negotiated his deal to stay on as a volunteer before he left the payroll.

“Most people would never even reach 50 years in one career, but he’s done 50 years in one building,” said CHP Senior Volunteer Program Capt. James Newberry, who recruited Lomax as a volunteer.

As a close observer to academy training, Lomax has noticed that today’s cadets seem friendlier than past generations. They smile more often, and make eye-contact when they pass through the cafeteria.

Years ago, they tended to keep their heads down. Lomax thinks the change in attitude comes from adjustments in training methods that have toned down what used to be a military-style boot camp experience.

“I guess the oppressor has taken the foot off the oppressed, so they’re a little more relaxed,” he joked.

Today, he’s a living link to the CHP’s past. A historical exhibit in the cafeteria shows images of the academy spanning decades. Lomax pops up in three of the older ones.

“If you find a job you like, you enjoy or even love, you’ll never work a day,” he said.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton