I’ll be gone for Christmas: Public service in Louisa complicates holiday

As people around the world wake up on Christmas morning to celebrate the holiday with their families, there are others who will be absent because duty calls. Colleen Hensley is the daughter of a third-generation firefighter, and knows better than most what it’s like to celebrate the holidays early, late or whenever you get the

Colleen Hensley is coming back to her job in the communications division of the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday, and will have to work Christmas morning instead of spending it with her three young children and two teenage stepchildren.

As people around the world wake up on Christmas morning to celebrate the holiday with their families, there are others who will be absent because duty calls.

Colleen Hensley is the daughter of a third-generation firefighter, and knows better than most what it’s like to celebrate the holidays early, late or whenever you get the chance.

“I can’t remember my dad ever being home on Christmas morning,” she said. “It was something I adjusted to pretty early on.”

The Northern Virginia native moved to Louisa County 10 years ago when her father, Robert Dubé, was hired as chief of Louisa Fire and EMS. The 2011 Louisa County High School graduate was drawn toward public service, wanting to serve her community like her father, and grandfather. She joined the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office Communications Division in 2013.

Now, the mother of three young children and stepmother to two teenagers, returns to work after six weeks of maternity leave. Her youngest, Caroline, was born a month ago.

Hensley’s husband, Louisa County Animal Control Officer Jay Hensley, balances spending time with children and working shifts.

“It’s hard working shift work, especially with three little ones,” he said. “With our shift work and schedules, it’s hard to balance making sure we have enough time with them and working 12 hours at a time.”

The sacrifice that comes with a life spent prioritizing the safety of your community over time spent with your family is one that few people can understand. Time with family, once lost, is lost for good.

The Liddle Family

This sacrifice is one that Louisa County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Ryan Liddle knows well. He and his girlfriend, Elizabeth “Liz” Cannon, balance time with their two-year-old son, Tucker. In his four years with the sheriff’s office, Liddle has risen quickly through the ranks and has become a member of the Special Response Team. This, however, leaves him juggling his responsibilities as a deputy and as a father.

“I’ve worked on Christmas every year,” Liddle said.

The tradition in his family involves heading to his mom’s house around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. Last year, he arrived at 5 a.m. so that he could enjoy spending some time with his family before his 6 a.m. shift.

Tucker has adapted well to the demands of his father’s job, and only quietly nods when asked if he misses his dad when he’s at work during Christmas. A second quiet nod indicated that Tucker was excited about this year’s holiday season.

“Liz and I came to an agreement in the very beginning,” Liddle said. “She knew that I wasn’t going to be available all the time, and that there would be times when I got a call and had to leave. She’s been really supportive.”

Cannon said she  understands the sacrifice, and is proud to support her husband’s effort to protect and serve his community.

“Sometimes it’s difficult, not having him home all the time,” Cannon said. “But I know he’s out there keeping people safe. What he does sometimes scares me because people nowadays target police officers.”

However, she supports the fact that Liddle is doing the job that he enjoys, even if it means missing out on spending holidays together.

“But as long as he comes home safe, that’s what matters the most to me,” she said.

This is a partial article. Read the full story in The Central Virginian’s Dec. 20, 2018 issue.