North Georgia sheriffs, police chiefs and a prosecutor received an email from Patrick Doyle the day after Thanksgiving, announcing he needed a break.
Doyle, 47, the commander of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force, was rushed to a hospital earlier in the week. He thought he suffered a stroke, LaFayette Police Chief Benji Clift said. But in the hospital, a doctor told him his cancer had progressed. He needed intensive treatment.
The email's recipients were surprised. Except for his family and a couple of close friends, Doyle kept his skin cancer diagnosis a secret for nine years. He hadn't previously taken time off as he underwent treatment.
"He never wavered," Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said. "I never saw anything that would cause me to know he was ill or sick or battling cancer. He always showed up to work, was a hard worker. He was just one of the good guys."
He remained optimistic. Clift ran into him at Bass Pro Shop the Saturday before Christmas, making last-minute gift purchases. Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Greg Ramey visited him the next day and said Doyle was happy. Friends exchanged text messages with him on Christmas. But the day after, his condition worsened. After three days in a hospital, Doyle died Sunday morning.
As commander of the drug task force, Doyle led a small team that worked narcotics investigations in Chattooga, Dade and Walker counties, sweeping rural areas with small populations but plenty of territory for trafficking. (The three counties' populations are about one-third that of Hamilton County, but its 933 square miles is about 40 percent bigger.)
Since a board appointed him to the commander position in 2012, Doyle became the public face of drug awareness in North Georgia. He continued to assist agents on investigations, but he also spoke at schools and was a frequent guest on UCTV, the local cable access television network. Officers in the area described him as a dogged investigator with a light touch, able to build a rapport with confidential informants, elected officials and middle school students in educational programs.
"He never said, 'No,'" said Judy O'Neal, owner of UCTV. "If I called him 15 minutes until 9 and said, 'What are you doing?' He would be there. He was always there."
"The community will feel a great loss," said Ramey, a close friend and one of the few people who knew about Doyle's cancer diagnosis for the past decade. "He's probably one of the best law enforcement officers I ever worked around. Hands down. His knowledge of police work, the way he carried himself. Sometimes, cops get a bad reputation — 'They're jerks' and this kind of stuff. Pat treated everybody fairly."
Doyle is from Carrollton but moved to the area after college, following a close friend to the Walker County Sheriff's Office. He started as a jail officer in 1996, then became a LaFayette Police Department patrol officer a year later. In 2003, he was appointed to the drug task force as an agent.
He worked for the department through the rise of the methamphetamine trade, first in clandestine labs in dealers' homes and backyards, then as mass shipments flowed from Mexico, through Atlanta.
Most officers remain on the task force for no more than five years, several law enforcement officers said. Work on a case can stretch into the early morning. And as part of a task force, agents are on call for all three counties. Larry Black, a former task force commander who was once Doyle's boss, said time on the task force looks good on a resume, tempting officers to leave for higher-paying administrative roles at other departments.
But Doyle remained on the task force for 15 years. Clift said he never applied for a promotion elsewhere. When Black left to run for Catoosa County sheriff, the board appointed him as his replacement.
"He felt like he was making an impact," Clift said. "Pat was a very motivated man. And he was very committed to what he was doing. I think he just loved it."
Outside of work, Doyle volunteered with his son's Boy Scouts troop, the Future Farmers of America and 4-H, teaching gun safety. He enjoyed hunting and fishing.
"He was able to do that thing that brought him back to his center," Ramey said. "He enjoyed what God put on this Earth. The waters. The woods. The creatures."
DeWayne Brown, the deputy commander for the task force, is currently running day-to-day operations. Doyle's long-term replacement will be chosen by the task force's control board, which consists of Clift, Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief Mike Helton, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin and the three counties' sheriffs.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.