This newspaper has criticized some actions of law enforcement in the past and will likely do so again in the future. Just like those of us who cover the news at The Wetumpka Herald, the guy or woman who delivers your mail or the person that checks you out at the grocery store, they’re not perfect people.
But they do have a necessary and important function in our society – necessary and important to your safety and mine – and it is a dangerous one, one that requires that they literally risk their lives each and every day.
As such, they deserve our respect.
But some officers of the law perform their duties longer, better and with more gumption than others.
That’s what Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin says stood out about Capt. Robert Terry Ward – his people skills, gathered and honed over nearly 40 years of police work. Clearly, his long career was an asset to him and a blessing to those citizens he protected as well as those he dealt with on the wrong end of his job.
“I’ve never had anyone here that had better people skills,” said Franklin. “He just had a way of relating to people, letting them know by how he acted that even if they were irate, they weren’t going to make him that way. Within a few minutes, they would calm down.”
It wasn’t two months ago that I was on my way home one late evening from a long day here at work. As I turned north on Alabama Highway 9 toward my home in Equality, I remembered that I had failed to clock out. I have an app I can use to clock out on my phone. I hate to do that while driving, so I reached for my phone and pulled to the side of the road, but couldn’t connect. I drove on, checking my phone frequently until I finally connected and clocked out. Needless to say, my driving grew a bit erratic while I signed into the app and punched out.
It wasn’t very long before I saw the blue lights. An Elmore County Sheriff’s SUV loomed large in my rear view and I pulled over at the first good place that I found.
The officer, who I now believe was Capt. Ward, walked around to my passenger’s side and I rolled down the window.
“You’re Mr. Granger, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, guessing he’d probably seen a column tease on the front of the newspaper and, being an officer and trained to be observant, recognized me.
“Are you okay?” he asked before going into the fact he’d stopped me because I was weaving on the road. I explained to him what I was doing and, while he examined my license and my insurance card, he said, “Well, that makes perfect sense. You should really be careful about using your phone when you’re driving.”
Again, he asked if I was sure that I was okay. When I said I was, he returned my license and insurance card and sent me on my way.
He never raised his voice. He never grew stern. Talking with him was like talking to a friend. And he was genuinely concerned about me.
When you’ve faced the physical battles that Robert Terry Ward faced – the heart defect, the MRSA infection that almost took his life a few years ago – you become more inclined toward concern about the health of others. You’ve come face-to-face with your mortality and know life is short.
For Capt. Ward, who was only 60 on last Tuesday when his heart stopped beating four days after heart surgery, life was too short. Franklin said he misses the little things like speaking to Ward in the hall. I’m sure his wife, children and grandchildren miss so much more.
As for us, the citizens of the county, our hearts might not hurt to the degree that his coworkers’ or family members’ do, but we’ll miss him, too.
We’ll miss that skill and those unmatched people skills.
Rest in peace, Captain.