Raymond Cocke, district conservationist with the USDA — Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Halifax County, is retiring after 39 years of service as a professional natural resource conservationist.

He started his career immediately upon graduation from Virginia Tech with the Pittsylvania Soil and Water Conservation District as one of only seven professional conservationists hired to work for soil and water conservation districts in Virginia.

He spent approximately 14 years with Pittsylvania SWCD before joining the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) that soon was renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

He reported to the Rocky Mount Field Office as a soil conservationist to manage the Blackwater Hydrologic Unit Area (watershed) focusing on non-point pollution from animal waste and cropland erosion flowing into Smith Mountain Lake. Within three years he was promoted to district conservationist managing the Rocky Mount Field Office and served both Franklin and Henry counties.

With diverse conservation experience coupled with excellent training provided by NRCS, Cocke was promoted to the supervisory district conservationist position located in the Bonsack Field Office serving the Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District. He had technical responsibilities for Craig, Roanoke and Botetourt counties in addition to supervisory responsibilities for staff working in six field offices serving 10 Virginia counties.

Cocke chose to commute for four years from his home in Gretna rather than move to Bonsack due to his three children: Dann, Bronson and Rhiannon attending Pittsylvania County Schools, his church and community activities and his wife, Pat, teaching elementary students in the Pittsylvania school system.

The district conservationist position in Halifax became available in 2003, and Cocke was selected to manage the Halifax Field Office and served many cattle, row crop, timber and wildlife cooperators within the Halifax Soil and Water Conservation District.

“Working in Halifax shortened my commute significantly, but my tenure here most importantly allowed me to meet and work with a great group of local, state and federal employees as well as assist a number of conservation minded land owners who are truly concerned about stewardship of our soil, water, air, plants, animals and other related natural resources.

“I want to thank all of the many persons who helped train and support me over the years, many of whom have passed away now, but their legacy will continue on the landscape where there is still a terrace, grass waterway, livestock grazing system, managed timber stand, good wildlife habitat or restored wetland.

“I hope I have helped make a difference, for the good of people and our environment,” said Cocke.