Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, “
This past Thursday I had the privilege of being the key note speaker at my father’s retirement recognition banquet. Considering all the “brass” that were limited to a few minutes in their presentations, I was honored to speak to my father’s accomplishments and importance to his community. The following is the speech as I delivered it on January 6th, 2011:
“On behalf of the family, I would like to thank you for being here tonight to honor the service and career of Tommy Boswell. Your presence here tonight, and your friendship over the years means the world to us, and we value each of you greatly. Our family recognizes that it is because of your support over the years that as a community we all were able to make Russell County a better place to live.
With Christmas having just passed, we all have very sharp memories of the sound ripping wrapping paper, shrills of children as they yell in excitement, and a joy that comes from seeing children happy, and times with family. This year as I sat around our Christmas tree and watched my children playing, I thought about what am I truly giving to my children, beyond the toys that will be discarded in a week, and decorations that will be put away until next year?
You will hear tonight from several community leaders how my father has served the community, but I would like to share some gifts I feel my dad has passed on to his family, and specifically his son.
1. The First gift from my dad is a sense of Duty
One of the earliest memories I have of my dadâ€™s career was when he was an investigator and would take me to his office. I remember the old Sherriffâ€™s office and the old jail, with the green shag carpet that reeked of cigarette smoke, and mildew, and the sound of window air conditioners running.
I would play with magnifying glasses, fingerprint tape, and evidence that had been to court and thrown in the trash. It was so cool to hold brass knuckles, switch blades, and butcher knives with blood still on it.
It was not a kid â€œfriendly placeâ€ â€“ which made it cool â€“ but he allowed me to enter into this world with him. But more impacting to me than the knives and the brass knuckles, was a board in the sheriffâ€™s office full of childrenâ€™s pictures and in big bold words would be the words, â€œKidnapped,â€ and â€œMissing,â€ a description of them and how they were my age.
My dad, and those like him, were looking for those children and the bad guys who took them. There were so many pictures, layer upon layer of little boyâ€™s and little girlâ€™s faces. But my dad and his department did find some and brought them back home.
But I did not understand the weight of what my dad did for our family, or the community until one evening, dad came home from work as he had always done, but this cool fall evening, he never smiled or really said anything. He went back to his bedroom and stayed there for a long time. Well after dark he emerged from the bedroom dressed in black army fatigues that had bright yellow Sherriffâ€™s Department written above the pockets and the gold colored star.
He had black tactical belt with a gun, ammo clips, and handcuffs â€“ so it was a combination of this outfit, and his attitude that I knew this was not going to be any easy night for him. That was the first night when I feared my father may not come back home. There were other nights like that one as the years went by, but it was this first night that I understood, even as a small child, that he was one of the good guys and he was seeking to fight the bad guys and that fight was dangerous. He was putting himself in harms way so that the world could be a better place.
I am not sure which is worse, to go into harmâ€™s way and face death, or to send other men into harmâ€™s way and live with the consequences. Both are very hard. As he progressed in his career, the challenges changed, responsibilities changed, but his desire to fight the bad guys never has.
2. Another gift that my dad has given to us is a closeness to Death and Depravity
One afternoon my father picked me up from school and was taking me home when I saw a brown paper sack in the back seat of his police car. Halfway home he stopped at the Seale Depot, to get gas and he went in to pay. He told me â€œwhatever I do Drew, do not look in the bag.â€ How could I not open it, dad, come on! Well, it was a human skull, and to say the least I was a little freaked out.
It was the skull of an 85-year-old woman. Earlier that afternoon my father received a call to respond to a dead body that had been found on a remote county road. The body was nothing but bones but after some investigation it was discovered who she was and how she ended up where she did. She had wandered away and became lost and died of exposure. Thatâ€™s what he had done that day before he picked me up at school.
But death and manâ€™s depravity have always been sitting beside our family â€“ you cannot fight the bad guys and not come face-to-face with it. Crime scene photos on the top of our mantel were a common occurrence. The tools of the trade; handguns, shotguns, the smell of gun oil, handcuffs, walkie-talkies, a black leather wallet with the imprint of a badge, among other equipment were as common place in our home as a lamp or bowl of fruit. The sound of a squawking police radio is a familiar sound from my childhood, and when I ride with my dad now, it brings back a lot of good memories.
In order to fight an enemy, you have to learn to think like the enemy. You have to live in such a way to be prepared against evil â€“ so tools of the trade were always close by. Because of this closeness to death and depravity, many of the good guys seem hardened and cold. They have a mechanism to keep it from corrupting them â€“ it does affect you, it has to affect you.
As a family who has a career police officer as our father, I want to say thank you for finding that balance between keeping yourself from being corrupted by the evil that you fight and not losing your heart.
3. Another gift is Compassion
Our home was also a place where people knew they could get help. People stopped by (and still do) because they knew my dad (and our home) was a place where people could get help. So, it is not unusual to have strange characters knocking on our door at all hours of the night. One evening at about 3am there was a frantic banging on our front door. It was a woman who had been badly beaten and could hardly walk. Her clothes had been either ripped off or were torn in her effort to get away.
She was bare footed and her feet were bloody from stumbling over rocks and briars and her face was bloody from her being attacked. We asked her to come in and we wiped the mud and blood from her feet, arms, and body. My mother gave her some clothes and we put medicine on her wounds.
After some discussion with her, we gathered that she had stumbled about three miles from her home and saw nothing on the road (she passed at lest 20 homes). My father asked â€œHow did you know where I lived in the dark? She said â€œI didnâ€™t, except there was this tiny yellow light.â€ It was our doorbell she saw from several hundred yards away and she made her way to it.
But over the years many hurting people have found their way to our home.
Many a conversation was held under our carport, and on our picnic table was a place where many a crying person was calmed and justice began. He never gets aggravated, instead there is a sense of understanding â€“ â€œthis is what I do.â€
My mother would get upset when her tomatoes would be taken during these conversations, but I have never seen him shirk this sense of duty and obligation the to community. I am glad that I grew up in home where people knew they could get help from our home. It brings pride to my heart that we were able to help so many people.
4. By far the most important gift a father could give his son and family is a good name.
For over twenty years the name Tommy Boswell has been synonymous with duty, integrity, loyalty, and justice. He is a friend to many, and if his name is mentioned, it is directly related to his public service to our community and to his character as a person.
Proverbs 22:1 â€œA good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.â€
His name has gotten me out of a few speeding tickets when I was younger, but now that I am older I have come to realize how rich and important living a life of integrity, duty, hard work, and compassion is to a person. A respected family name is more important than riches because it enables you to reach far beyond yourself, and to make a difference in the world.
One of the things a leader wants to do is to fix all the problems and to end well. But people still do stupid things, and death and manâ€™s depravity are still there â€“ these things will never change until the end of time. All we can do is fight against it with all our might in our own areas of influence.
My dad has decided that it is time to pass the torch of leadership. One of the things I wanted to do tonight is to say thank you for making a difference in my life, in our familyâ€™s life, and in our communityâ€™s life.
You did make a huge impact, and your legacy will live on in the peopleâ€™s lives you helped, it is multiplied in the officerâ€™s you trained and launched into service, and the bad guys you put away. Russell County is a better place to live because of you, and I am the man I am today because of you being my father.
Through Tommy Boswellâ€™s leadership and serving along side fellow deputies, serving in various leadership positions, and having served for 37 years of police work, 21 of those as sheriff, he and his staff have investigated 400 murders and 2000 deaths, thousands or rapes, robberies, and burglaries, and there are currently over seven people on death row.
This is a career worthy of recognition. Thank you for a job well done.”
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