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Opinion: The longest serving Sergeant-Ralph

The longest-serving Sergeant-at-Arms in Missouri House history passed away this week. Ralph Robinett was 82 years old and served as the Missouri House of Representatives Sergeant-at-Arms for 19 years. Nine different Speakers from both the Democrat and Republican parties led the house during Ralph’s tenure. From 1997 to 2016, majorities and speakers came and went, but Ralph remained on duty keeping order and decorum for 19 years. I missed him when I left the House and on the few occasions when I visited the chamber after I retired it was always nice to see Ralph’s smiling face and talk with him about how the new members were doing.

When the Republicans won the majority in 2002, they were urged to replace all the staff members who had been working in the House when the Democrats had the majority. However, Ralph was one staff member nobody wanted to be replaced and Speaker Hanaway was fully supported keeping Ralph as the Sergeant-at-Arms.

When I was elected Speaker, Ralph was the second person to shake my hand after Judge Limbaugh who swore me in. Ralph always stood right next to the Diaz so he could keep a good eye on the whole floor, and he was always ready for anything. Back in those days, we had protesters hang signs from the gallery, bust through the front chamber doors, and even chain themselves to the side gallery doors. With Ralph there, I never worried about any of those disruptions. In the blink of an eye, he was on top of it and had them calmed down and out of the chamber. He always used a perfect combination of tact and force.

One thing that made Ralph a perfect Sergeant-at-Arms was his size. He was big. Maybe 6’6” or 6’7” tall with all the muscles to go with his height. In addition to security, Ralph oversaw the distribution of all the bills and floor amendments that had to be placed on each representative’s desk. I’ve never seen college kids stay on task and work as hard as they did for Ralph.

Ralph also helped ensure the rules on decorum were followed in the House. On more than one occasion he had to kindly escort a representative off the floor so that they could get a jacket or tie before casting their vote. He loved the House and was serious about enforcing the rules of the chamber.

Ralph retired from three different jobs. He served as Missouri Highway Patrol for 33 years. Spent 24.5 in the Missouri National Guard before joining us in the House for 19 years. Additionally, he was a board member and former chairman of the Jefferson City chapter of the American Red Cross, and he served for 13 years as a member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. He did all this while married to the same woman for 58 years and together, they raised four kids. Since Ralph was usually up by me at the Diaz, we had a chance to discuss many of life’s issues in late-night sessions during those long boring debates. Thinking back on those conversations always brings a smile to my face.

This year has been hard on the House. Speaker Jim Kreider and Speaker Ron Richard both passed away in the last few months. I know Ron appreciated the way Ralph enforced the traditions and decorum of the House and now Missouri and Jefferson City has lost another good man. Ralph Robinett kept the Missouri House secure for 19 years and any history of that body will not be complete with a chapter on the longest-serving and most tenacious Sergeant-at-Arms who ever served.

Link to Ralph’s obituary, here.