VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A few years ago while touring the Virginia Beach city jail you could notice his walk – one of the signs of Parkinson’s disease.
Today he looks back on the the struggle, the fight, the challenge.
“It’s a damn shame I got Parkinson’s, but I can live with it if I have to,” Stolle said. “Being here with the sheriffs office has made me young again.”
He remembers the doctor’s words.
“He said I have 10 years to live,” Stolle said. “(and) I better make the best use of my time.”
That was 17 years ago, when he was 52 and serving in the Virginia State Senate.
“I was carrying my left hand a little bit funny,” Stolle said, adding, “I was the majority whip, so I had to go around the floor all the time and I started slowing down doing that stuff.”
Stolle would be elected Virginia Beach Sheriff, and along the way would be an inspiration, not letting Parkinson’s define him.
“It’s not a matter of pride,” Stolle said. “It is a matter of accomplishment. If I give up accomplishing things, I’ll stop dressing myself, I’ll stop fishing, I’ll stop coming to work, stuff like that. I am not going to do that.”
Stolle has won four sheriff’s elections.
He doesn’t hide Parkinsons, he embraces it.
“The public has shown me that they trust me with Parkinson’s to do the job,” Stolle said. “They judge me on my abilities and not my disabilities, and I think that is fantastic.”
Stolle said that with Parkinson’s, you don’t know what it means to you until the years unfold.
“I dress myself still,” Stolle said. “I do everything for myself. I don’t ask for help from anybody. They all offer me help and I get pi**ed off about it. They get mad when I don’t take it.”
Stolle’s chief deputy, Rocky Holcomb, is his highest-ranking deputy.
“We joke and say Ken Stolle doesn’t have Parkinson’s,” Holcomb said. “Parkinson’s got Ken Stolle and (it) doesn’t know how to get rid of him. He’s a tough fighter.”
How is Stolle different than he was before Parkinson’s?
“I think my personality and my commitment to doing things is the same,” Stolle said. “I think the ways you accomplish it will be different, so I need to think about every step I take, or I will fall down. I have to think about what I say, articulate my words, things you would take naturally, I have to think about now.”
Days are good and some are not.
Sometimes to put on my socks, (it) takes 15 minutes,” Stolle said, “depends on how I’m doing that day. Today’s a good day because you came here.”
We asked him his advice for those with Parkinson’s
“There is no one who knows what you are going through except you,” Stolle said, “and it varies at every lifestyle. You got to figure if you are going to give into this or fight it, and I decided to fight it, fight it as long as I can.”
A change in retirement plans?
First, Stolle said he doesn’t feel the need to retire. He has the desire to retire.
“I want to spend time with my family,” Stolle said. “I want to do fishing and hunting, I want to live a little. The average police officer lives five years after he retires and then he dies, and I want to live more than five years.”
During the interview, Stolle revealed the back operation he thought he needed maybe can be put on hold.
“In the last few days, my back has improved nearly 100%,” Stolle said, “so I don’t think I need to do that operation right now.”
People have been wondering when he will absolutely retire.
“I don’t know when I am going to retire, probably by the end of this year I may,” Stolle said.
Is it possible Stolle will not retire by the end of year as speculated?
“It is up to me when I retire,” Stolle said. “I have been elected. I have been elected for four years and I can stay there for two more years if I want to.”
He expanded upon that thought.
“It could be after the first of the year, yes? it could be after the first of the year,” Stolle said.
Asked whether he would want to wait until after the first of the year to let them know he is in charge?
“Yea I do,” Stolle said. “I talked with my (public information officer) yesterday and said, I just may stay on until the end of my term now.”
In the event Stolle retires, Holcomb, now a Virginia Beach City Councilman, would become the interim sheriff until the court, by Virginia state code, sets a special election.
“The statute says the highest-ranking deputy will replace me as the new sheriff until the next election,” Stolle said.
And that would be Holcomb, who would have to resign from council if appointed to the interim position, and would await the court setting the special election.
“Every day I’m around him, I learn more,” Holcomb said. “He is a mentor and a leader to me. Every day serving with Sheriff Ken Stolle is a good day.”
In the twilight of his political career, there’s satisfaction for Stolle.
“They do like what I am doing, whether I have Parkinson’s or not,” Stolle said, “so, it’s not a good thing to have Parkinson’s, but it is a good thing to have the voters to give me the authority to allow me to do what I am doing, and they trust me to do it.”