Robert K. Hicks, a retired senior U.S. customs inspector who received commendations for helping thwart major drug smuggling operations, died March 2 from complications of diabetes. The longtime Glen Cove resident, who most recently lived in West Babylon, was 80.
Hicks, one of 12 siblings, spent 32 years as senior inspector for the U.S. Customs Service, retiring in 1987. He received commendations in 1969 and 1982 for interdicting large shipments of illegal drugs, including 13 pounds of cocaine entering at Kennedy Airport in 1982. He also worked as an inspector at LaGuardia Airport and at New York City shipping ports.
His son, Robert M. Hicks of East Meadow, said his father rarely spoke of his work for the government, which included giving testimony at trials and facing occasional threats. The son found a list of his dad's awards and commendations, even a sharpshooter's certificate, while going through his papers this week.
"He was very low-key about it," the younger Hicks said.
Robert K. Hicks grew up in Glen Cove, the son of Howell Hicks, who fought in France during World War I with the 369th Infantry, an African-American regiment, and Jennifer Estelle Johnson, of Shinnecock Indian descent, Robert Hicks said.
Hicks entered the Customs Service after serving four years in the U.S. Air Force, from which he was honorably discharged as an airman 1st class in 1954. One of the great disappointments of his life, his son said, was being denied the right to advance in the Air Force because of his race.
"He told me that he didn't know what racism was until he went in the Air Force," his son said. "He valued his service, but he really was hurt by the limits that were placed on him."
Despite the experience, Robert Hicks didn't abide racism in his own home. When the father of a neighborhood boy whom the younger Hicks had been teasing because of his Hasidic hairstyle came by their Brooklyn home to report it to the elder, the punishment was swift.
"I got a paddling from my dad," Robert Hicks said. "He didn't stand for bigotry in any sense of the word."
Hicks graduated from Glen Cove High School and attended classes at Queens College but didn't receive a degree.
Hicks doted over his two sons, Robert and David Hicks, of Baldwin. "He was the greatest family man you ever want to see," Robert Hicks said. He valued education, sent his sons to private schools, and led by example with an intellectual curiosity that continued to his last days.
"When I bought a computer for him a couple of years ago, it opened up a whole new world for him," Robert Hicks said. His father pored over medical journals to get a better understanding of his diabetes and heart problems. "He'd come to doctors with articles. He'd have all the information broken down to tell the doctors about it. They loved having him come in."
He and his wife, Enid, who survives him, would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in July.
In addition to his wife and two sons, Hicks is survived by six brothers and sisters, Fred C. Hicks; Harry W. Hicks; Janet A. Hicks; Maj. Gen. David H. Hicks, retired U.S. Army chaplain; Thomas H. Hicks; and Peter H. Hicks; and one grandchild.
A service will be held Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the Dodge-Thomas Funeral Home at 26 Franklin Ave., Glen Cove.