I’m now at that age where I read the obituaries because, sadly, I keep seeing names I know. Just a few days ago, when I turned to the obits, I was so shocked I almost dropped the paper. A picture of one of my old bosses, Odis Willis, was smiling at me from the bottom of column three.
Odis was the second lieutenant whom I worked for at Metro PD. The first was Gene Smith, who was a cop of the Larger Than Life variety. Odis was a different kind of cop. He was the quiet, sneaky, you’ll-never-know-what-I’m-really-up-to kind of cop. He was also a good man with a kind heart who wasn’t afraid to admit he was wrong and apologize, which is a rare thing anywhere you work, but even more so at Metro.
I remember his daughter’s wedding – heck, I even remember one of his weddings. Like many cops, he’d had more than one. Odis had a sly sense of humor and loved a well-done practical joke; he laughed wickedly when he told us about the tricks he used to play on one of his ex-wives. He was originally from Oklahoma, where he’d had a hard-scramble existence growing up. He never lost his love of Southern food, and he rarely turned down lunch at N’Orleans, a former restaurant at Spring Mountain and Decatur that served the best fried catfish, collard greens, and red beans (Yes, even better than Hush Puppy).
When my dad was late to my wedding, Odis was drafted to be on stand-by to give me away. (Thankfully, Dad showed up, but Odis is still there in my wedding pictures, smiling knowingly.) A year later, when Dad was desperately ill, Odis called me into his office one afternoon. I thought he was going to get after me for all the time I was spending at the hospital. I steeled myself for the reprimand. Crying was an absolute no-no. When he said, “You take all the time you need to take care of your dad, don’t worry about a thing,” I had to leave his office immediately because tears overwhelmed me. I wasn’t prepared for kindness.
So long, Lt. Willis. Heaven always has room for another guy like you.