After 20 years as a deputy, Ray Allen finally made it to sheriff Wednesday. But not the way he wanted.
In a bittersweet ceremony, the 46-year-old lawman was sworn in as Grand Isle County's sheriff, succeeding his wife of 26 years. She died July 7 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"It's a very sad day and a very happy day," said state Sen. Richard Mazza, who opened the 15-minute swearing-in ceremony at the county courthouse. "Ray is taking over being sheriff of Grand Isle County today. It's not the way he would've liked to take over being sheriff, but when we plan our lives, we never know exactly what's going to happen."
Sheriff Connie Allen, 46, had 19 years in the department and nine as sheriff.
She's survived by her husband, five sons _ including Deputy Blake Allen, who filed into the courtroom in uniform along with other deputies from the 13-member department _ and two grandchildren.
Connie Allen, a Democrat who had held the job since 2002 and was re-elected in November, was highly regarded both for her work in uniform and out. She established the Sheriff's R & R Camp, a summer camp that served about 70 children, and was widely known for her work in the Lake Champlain island communities served by the department.
"Over the next four years if re-elected, I intend to continue my work with children and families, advocating for more resources which in turn reduce domestic violence as well as juvenile problems," she wrote in a candidate statement last fall.
"She was extraordinarily well respected in this county and in this community," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, who appointed Allen and joined in the ceremony. "They didn't come any better than Connie Allen."
Her legacy _ and the still-fresh pain of her sudden death _ were on the minds of many but on the lips of few Wednesday.
Family, friends and law enforcement officers from around the state packed a courtroom for the ceremony, many of them sticking around to give hugs and best wishes to Allen afterward.
"It's just awful," said retired Judge Ben Joseph, who knew her for 20 years. "It's one of those things in life."
Ray Allen said he was so shaken after his wife's death that he wasn't sure he could continue as a sheriff's deputy, let alone seek to succeed her.
Eventually, he decided it was important to continue her work.
"It's my honor and privilege to have the opportunity to continue what she and I started," he said in an interview. "She had 19 years in. We had always worked side by side.
"I wanted to make sure that the projects and things she had going continued: the kids camp, the resources for juveniles out here. That's going to continue," he said.