But now his iconic dark grey hat, his cool head under that hat, and his command of a difficult situation are forever stamped on many of our minds.
When you meet Vernon Keenan, you don't need to see the color of his hat to realize he truly is one of the good guys.
Many of us in this neck of the woods know him as husband to wife, Joan, or father of Jackson and Matt, both graduates of Cherokee High School, who grew up with many of our own children.
But to more than 800 employees of the GBI and to law enforcement agencies throughout Georgia, he is the ranking police officer. And there is no doubt they respect him.
Keenan graduated from Valdosta State University and has a master's degree from the Law Enforcement Command College in Columbus. He started his career with the DeKalb County Police Department in 1972 and a year later joined the GBI and graduated from the GBI Basic Agent Class.
For the next almost four decades he rose through the ranks of the GBI to be appointed by then-Gov. Sonny Purdue to head the organization. Now Gov. Nathan Deal has reappointed Keenan to the job.
In his years leading the agency, Keenan has proven himself a team player and a dedicated leader in training officers statewide in crisis intervention and in forming a statewide multi-agency terrorism task force.
He stands for openness in dealing with the media and for professionalism when serving the public.
Last Friday night, Keenan once again proved his worth when he was the hero in the capture of a dangerous man in a drama that played out right before our eyes on the local nightly television news.
Like a script written for TV, Keenan sent his message to the man who held nine people hostage. Come out peacefully, and you will not be harmed.
That suspect had gunned down a police officer, a father and husband, a deacon of his church and a respected and loved man. I am sure many people did not care whether Hood lived or died that day.
But Keenan did what was necessary to see that justice was served and right was done.
Keenan allowed a criminal to dictate terms that the cameras roll live as the dangerous and cornered man gave himself up. He kept the many police officers on the scene calm, and he brought out the suspected killer and his hostages safely.
Vernon Keenan was our hero.
Back when we were children, the good guys on television were easy to spot because they always wore white hats.
But there were other heroes, Elliott Ness fighting corruption in Chicago during the days of Prohibition and gangsters like Al Capone, Humphrey Bogart playing Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon."
Keenan is reminiscent of them.
At the Rotary Club of Canton meeting just days before last Friday's standoff, Keenan was the featured speaker.
The tone was much lighter that day. Keenan told the members of his department's many accomplishments and of the role they play in working with the local law enforcement agencies.
He praised the Cherokee County law enforcement community and said that he is glad he lives in this county.
Following his talk he took questions.
Marguerite Cline, herself the icon of Southern gentility and grace, asked Keenan a sincere question.
She asked him why he wore a dark hat rather than a white hat since he was one of the good guys.
His answer brought down the house.
"My mother is a Southern lady, and she would kill me if I wore white before Easter," Keenan deadpanned.
Miss Marguerite, who admitted to me that she might wear white herself sometimes before Easter, was for one moment rendered speechless.
Then she herself died laughing.
And we all saw just why Vernon Keenan, who can be so tough but can also laugh at himself, is such a great man. No matter what color his hat.
Rebecca Johnston is the former editor of the Cherokee Tribune.