THE most senior police officer in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot retires today after more than 30 years in South Wales Police.
Chief superintendent Mark Mathias joined as a 16-year-old cadet and went on to become commander of the biggest division in the force — picking up a Queen's Police Medal along the way.
He hangs up his hat today after 32 years — describing his career in uniform as "privilege".
He said: "I always wanted to be a policeman.
"I think we do make a difference — that is why I joined."
From a Hendy mining family — his father and two of his brothers were miners — the former Llanelli Grammar School pupil cites his sportsmaster Wyn Oliver as a major influence on his future life.
And though he was in the Welsh Schoolboys rugby squad, it was a different kind of cap that changed his life.
After leaving school he joined the South Wales Police cadets, than at 18-and-a-half signed up for the force proper.
He began by walking the beat in Mumbles before moving on to Sketty, Blaenymaes and Gorseinon, before, in 1985, he took an attachment to CID.
He said: "I loved CID work — but I was never a detective.
"Detectives have a nose for the work, an instinct, while I was just a worker — but I learned so much from them."
In 1991 he was promoted to sergeant and worked in the control room in Swansea before moving to Neath.
In 1994 he was promoted to detective sergeant in Morriston, and then in 1995 became an inspector at Bridgend headquarters, where he took charge of Special Branch.
By 1997 he was a chief inspector in Cockett, and in 2002 returned to Bridgend where he was responsible for the creation of Tarian, the all-Wales serious and organised crime unit.
By 2003 he was a superintendent, and in 2007 was made chief super in Swansea, which later merged with Neath Port Talbot to former the enlarged western division.
In 2011 he was awarded the Queen's Police Medal (QPM) for distinguished service.
He said: "The force has changed a great deal since I joined — in those days we were an enforcement agency, now the public expect a lot more, we are everything to everyone.
"Police officers are far more professional today then when I joined, more professional in their training, deployment and capabilities."
The chief super admits to being in "emotional turmoil" about leaving the force — but says he has enormous pride.
He said: "I am incredibly proud of being part of a team.
"I have worked with some absolutely fantastic people who make a difference.
"This isn't a job, it is a way of life — and it has been a privilege."