For as long as he can remember, Virginia Tech has been a central part of Wendell Flinchum's life. As a kid, he spent a lot of time at the university, where his father taught. He would later attend the school as a student, and in 1985, it's where he began his law enforcement career.
He says he feels honored that he'll get to close a big chapter of his life there as well.
"I have a great love for the university and the community," Flinchum said, "and when I think about it, the community is really what kept me here."
Thursday, he officially announced his retirement, which becomes effective Jan. 31. He says after nearly three decades on the job, he knew it was time to step down.
"There's some things I love about the job, there's some things I don't," he said, "but I think for me personally, it was just the right time to move on to the next chapter."
Flinchum says he takes with him many happy memories from his time on campus and many sad ones as well. He had to lead the department and university community through the April 16, 2007, shootings and the shooting death of his officer Deriek Crouse in 2011.
"Any leader presented with a challenge can rise up and meet that challenge," he said. "I think from those events what I saw and what I've gained is the sense of community that we have here at this university."
Virginia Tech administrators say Flinchum's leadership during those incidents has earned him the eternal respect and gratitude of the entire university community and citizens and law enforcement agencies from across the country.
"He's a real pro," said Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker. "He's a fine person who is part of the Tech community and part of the Tech culture. He's done a fine job leading us through some pretty tough times."
His officers say there are few who can do the things he's done or who can lead the way he's led.
"He has this unique ability to make everyone else around him feel very calm," said Major Kevin Foust, deputy chief of the Virginia Tech Police Department. "I have seen him walk into a situation in which other people are losing their minds, and just by him coming through the door and being seen, have a tremendous calming effect on people. It's because people trust his leadership."
It's why they say replacing him will be tough.
"Those will be some big shoes to fill," Hincker said, "but the good news is the Virginia Tech Police Department has got a deep bench."
Flinchum says he's confident the department and the university will be just fine once he leaves.
"I love this department and I want nothing but success for this department and the university," he said, "and I do feel like I'm leaving at a good point."
Foust will take over as acting chief on Feb. 1 and remain in that position until a permanent replacement is named.
"Not only do I consider him a great leader and a great boss, but a great friend," Foust said. "Hopefully I'm able to do half of what he's been able to do and I hope I'm half as successful as he is. If I am, I'll consider that success."