Retired sergeant described as strict but fair

The Roanoke Times | Saturday, December 28, 2013

A retired Roanoke police sergeant who served in the department for more than four decades is set to be buried today with department honors.

Melvin George Wiseman, 78, died on Christmas Eve at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital from complications of pneumonia and renal failure, said his nephew, Mike Poff.

Wiseman began his career as a patrolman in 1956, when Eisenhower was president and Elvis was just making his start. He had served in Korea in the U.S. Army and found a calling in law enforcement.

The officer was strict and meticulous, insisting that shoes be shined, uniforms be crisp and patrol cars be sparkling.

“You never, never let him catch you in a dirty vehicle,” said Deputy Chief Tim Jones, who served under Wiseman’s command. “It could rain today, and tomorrow you better have your car there getting it washed.”

Wiseman became sergeant in 1976, when officers still spent time primarily walking their beats. It wasn’t unheard of for him to sprinkle talcum powder on a walkway so he could see if his patrolmen had done their job, Jones said.

“He was kind of an old-school type of cop,” Jones said. “But what it did was, it made you accept the responsibility that you’d been vested with.”

Wiseman was lauded for his work at least twice, including once in 1967 when he and another officer arrested three men in downtown Roanoke who were attempting to break into a building. The men turned out to be tied to a string of more than 88 break-ins at businesses and churches over about six months.

In early 1976, he was named officer of the month by the Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce for stopping a would-be mugger from attacking a woman.

“He was strict, he was determined, but he was fair,” said George Hubbard, who worked for the department for 31 years before retiring as a captain in 1984. “There was no foolishness about him.”

Jones remembered the time Wiseman’s wife, Norma, hired a singing telegram company to come into the officers’ morning meeting to surprise him for their 25th wedding anniversary.

“She came into lineup and began to dance and sing right at Melvin, and he didn’t want to laugh,” Jones said.

As the woman sat down on his lap, Norma Wiseman rounded the corner.

“Then he busted out laughing. He couldn’t hold it in anymore,” Jones said. “That was a side of him that he didn’t reveal very often.”

Wiseman retired in 1999 after 43 years on the force. He had been in ailing health and living at the Pheasant Ridge Senior Living Community for a little more than a year, Poff said. He’d been diagnosed with dementia just a few months after Norma, his wife of 55 years, died in February 2012.

“Basically it was depression after she died,” Poff said.

Jones said he’ll remember his mentor as a man who preferred to work diligently behind the scenes, out of the limelight.

“When we leave this Earth, there’s not a lot that I think people can say about someone other than the fact that he was a good person,” Jones said. “He was a good man. He was a good police officer, and he served this city.”

Wiseman will be buried at a graveside funeral at Evergreen Burial Park with a department honor guard.

A procession of police vehicles will lead his casket in – all cleaned and shined, the way he would’ve wanted.

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