For years, I have exchanged pleasantries with Digby and Joy Rowe at PPOA barbecues and retiree reunions, completely unaware that the soft-spoken, retired deputy once saved a judge by delivering a crunching tackle to an infamous mass murderer. In an instant, Digby Rowe preserved life and justice while sacrificing his own well-being and, ultimately, his career.
If you’ve attended any of PPOA’s annual events, you’ve probably met the Rowes. Both are known to don smiles and dapper blue shirts. Joy is easily one of the most devoted “deputy spouses” I’ve ever met. As her husband approaches 80 years of age and deals with recent health issues, Joy has been committed and tireless in caring for Digby in between driving him to dialysis and other medical appointments from one end of L.A. County to the other. I sat down with both of them last month, and it is clear that they care for each other deeply.
Digby was 28 years old with a college degree and a passion for education when he entered the Sheriff’s Academy in 1966. “My whole career centered on teaching and training,” he said. He explained that his experience as an instructor at Cal State L.A. proved invaluable as he took great pride in providing guidance and proper training techniques to young deputies and explorers. But Digby was only four years into his promising law enforcement career when life took a sudden turn.
On October 5, 1970, Digby was assigned to transport Charles Manson from his jail cell in the Hall of Justice to the courtroom where the crazed cult leader was on trial for a wave of bloody killings. In court that day, the deputy noticed that Manson was gripping an overly sharpened pencil as the judge was speaking. Suddenly, Manson directed the following threat to the judge: “You’re railroading me into the gas chamber and someone should cut off your head!” That’s when Manson bolted toward the judge, pencil in hand. Digby jumped up on the courtroom railing, then onto the counsel table, leaped on Manson from behind and tackled him to the ground just before he could reach the stunned judge. “He came within about six inches from the neck and jugular vein of the judge,” said Digby.
The ensuing fall was violent enough to break Digby’s patella and tibia so severely that he was unable to return to work. His time spent serving in a “challenging and honorable profession” had come to an end, but his optimism remained. “Being a deputy sheriff proved to be a very productive and satisfying time for me.”
Digby remained passionate about teaching and training, even after his days in uniform had come to a close. “My favorite retirement memory was being able to utilize my previous police training and education to teach and lecture at Cal State L.A. after earning my master’s degree.”
Digby and Joy Rowe reside in Monterey Park, just a few miles from where they met (Cal State L.A.) and from the Academy, where today’s young recruits would be well-served to heed the advice of a wise retiree who considers it an honor to offer it: “My advice for new deputies would be to remember that each new 24-hour period is a new adventure. You can always depend on changes, so continuing your education and training is a ‘must do’ in order to be vigilant and safety aware. Your safety education never ends.”
He also offers this insight to rookie retirees: “Growing older is just another new adventure, so now it’s your turn to completely enjoy your life. You’ve earned the right!”
If you would like to reach out to Digby Rowe, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will gladly forward all correspondence to him.