“I am more of a warrior today than at any other time in my career” said the great-grandfather seated next to me at ILEETA 2011.
Bob Lindsey is a 67 year old cancer survivor who frenetically walked from his just-finished lecture to find a quiet place for us to talk. I should have applied for a parade permit as Lindsey deftly moved from one greeting to another, shifting his ancient briefcase to accommodate a dozen handshakes, hugs and greetings as I tried to keep up with him. Colonel Lindsey, retired from Jefferson County Parish in Louisiana, become “Coach” Lindsey in the course of his training career.
An apparently disengaged and quiet student asked for Lindsey’s autograph at the end of a training session, claiming that Lindsey had spoken directly to him like nobody since his wrestling coach. The next person in line for the book signing said “Coach, can I get you to sign this?” and the appellation stuck. He doesn’t mind being known as Coach when many people don’t remember his actual name. “There is a difference between knowing my name and accepting who I am,” said Lindsey.
Coach, mentor, sensei, warrior – nothing quite describes Coach Lindsey. I called him a prophet, a term that he quickly rejected “Jesus was a prophet, Mohammed was a prophet; I’m no prophet. We are all messengers.”
Lindsey is, however, a gifted teacher and motivator. “I love this profession and the women and men who have the courage to give themselves in a worthy cause,” says Lindsey. Coach began his law enforcement career after falling asleep in the pew at the altar of a church in New Orleans during a fervent prayer for guidance. He had served in the Air Force while considering whether to go to medical school or the priesthood. Still confused about the direction of his life he prayed for inspiration. When he awoke he felt certain that he was called to a life of service.
Remembering the grand old police building he used to pass on Sunday drives with his family as a child, he went from the church to the station and said he wanted to be a police officer. In 1964 he began his career with New Orleans Police Department walking a foot beat. “It was scary, but we had each other” he said, remembering some of the most violent times for policing in America and the comradeship of the profession.
Within the next six years Lindsey had finished his degree by going to night school at Loyola College, and had moved to Jefferson County Parish where he retired in 1998. Lindsey remarked that he served with the grandparents of some of the officers he is now training. As we spoke, a number of well known police trainers and experts couldn’t resist stopping by to engage him. I asked renown trainer Dan Marcou about Lindsey’s influence.
“I always stop to listen to what Coach has to say. He has always attached honor to law enforcement. He has an intensity of spirit. Anybody can teach skills - he re-lights your fire.”
Coach’s honesty and humility is key to how he connects with police officers. With adherence to his Catholic Christian faith and an embrace of truths from eastern philosophy, Lindsey can’t point to a particular point in time when he came to know the things that now inspire and empower those who hear him.
“The intangible qualities of the soul is what shines through,” he said. Plenty of moments could be a dramatic place for an epiphany in Lindsey’s career. He shared his experience on the roof of the Howard.
Johnson’s motel during the ten hour siege and killing spree of Robert Essex in 1973, and his privilege of being an FBI National Academy graduate in 1972. Lindsey also spoke of his early advocacy for women and African-Americans in law enforcement, an unpopular stance for his day in the deep south.
Coach Lindsey’s passion for saving officers’ lives through the training he provides is palpable. He frequently leans forward, grabs my arm, and speaks intently. Lindsey excused himself for a couple of minutes to withdraw in prayer, then spoke about how police officers are “human but separate” with a unique calling that makes an eager audience for his inspiration to embrace what he believes is within each of them.
He lamented the high number of officer deaths in recent months, especially those that may have been prevented by officers wearing body armor and seat belts. “Police officers can be professional and safe,” said Lindsey.
It is often a matter of what we can do versus what we are willing to do that makes the difference according to the Coach, and Lindsey is willing to do all he can for many years to come.