Heroic characters were often defined and introduced to me by my hero dad. He was a low-level, white-shirted, black-frame-bespectacled government clerk who was a country-bred hard worker on our land in the woods.
He was a World War II veteran who personified "God-and-Country" values. If he admired someone, it was a foregone conclusion that I would mirror his judgment.
He tutored me, unknowingly, in defining heroes.
Gene Tinnin and Gary Ozment
One of those was Gene Tinnin of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. MSHP was (and is) a legendary law enforcement agency. Gene was a faithful member of our church, so I got to see him often. Whether in his flawless uniform or in a suit, he seemed eight feet tall.
He had a booming voice that made the stories of him jumping from airplanes in Dad’s war and being shot on duty — saved by the leather cartridge holder on his belt — very believable and, in fact, inevitable.
As much as I admired cops real and fictional, none persuaded me to consider actually being a cop. At that time in history, police work was decidedly blue collar. Discussions about law enforcement being a profession were just beginning.
I knew my parents expected me to be the first in my family to go to college; cops and college just didn't make sense then. Nevertheless, I did a ride-along with a local policeman because my friend’s father was the mayor of my small town, and I got invited to hop in one of these nights just for the heck of it.
I might as well have snorted cocaine that night for the addictive power of that experience.
So Rich a Crown
When I sat in that police car for the first time, there were no computer terminals or other 21st century equipment, just a cackling radio and a panel with a few rocker switches.
Driving was Gary Ozment, a veteran officer. The universe of midnight shift under flashing red lights revealed itself to me. The town that I thought I knew was teeming with potential badness and Ozment had his finger on its pulse.
He saw things that went unnoticed to my civilian eye. Every block and alley reminded him of a story to tell. His experiences reminded me of a phrase in a favorite hymn:
“Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown.”
Life through this old cop’s eyes was the bittersweet of action, evil, and opportunity to do the right thing in the middle of it all.
Two Among Many
These two foundational characters, influential as they were, are just two of hundreds of men and women whose paths have crossed mine and, like fingerprints, left evidence of being there along the way.
The most remarkable thing is that I’m sure that neither of them knew their influence, any more than the hundreds of decent, flawed humans who have shaped my life since.
But whenever I do the right thing, their pebble in the water ripples on.
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