“If you set a good example, you need not worry about setting rules.” —Lee Iacocoa
If you earned a driver’s license in Texas about the time I did, you know it was a time when one small piece of pink paper was a rite of passage—a revered step toward adulthood. If like me, you also crossed that threshold in Mount Pleasant, you remember Gene Campbell, the Texas State Trooper who served in the Driver’s License Division for 37 years.
When I first got to know Mr. Campbell as a neighbor, a bicycle was still my means of transportation. And, I later knew his family from sharing a pew at the North Jefferson Church of Christ in Mount Pleasant.
Growing up on Redbud Street on Mount Pleasant’s south side in the late 50s and early 60s was a time when kids spent summer evenings after supper making memories playing neighborhood games like hide-and-seek, Red Rover, and dodge ball. The concentration of kids on Redbud then included Kris and Kim Campbell who lived three doors up the street from us where the Highway Patrol vehicle, as it was called back then, was a neighborhood fixture in the driveway.
It was also a time when we learned by example to show respect for others, to say, “yes sir” and “yes, ma’am,” to obey the law and respect the men and women who enforced it.
My parents left no doubt in my mind about an example of what to expect should I get into trouble at school or with an officer of the law. No questions asked—the word of the teacher or the police officer was enough. I knew the parental punishment awaiting me at home was worse than any I might have already received from those whose duty it was to enforce the rules.
Those examples set at home are why Gene Campbell and a generation of officers of the law then might have asked a young person regarding questionable conduct, “What would your daddy think?” Nothing was harder than the thought of having failed in my parent’s eyes or standing before my father to account for disrespecting the examples set for me. It was far more painful than a properly applied switch to the backside.
Like Mr. Campbell, Mount Pleasant Police Chief B.C. Sustaire was of that same generation of officers who understood that when a badge was respected, officers of the law could temper strict law enforcement with a dose of common-sense wisdom when the latter better served the purpose.
Skipping the details of the night that landed my friends and I at the police station to face Chief Sustaire, I’ll simply say that the chief quizzed us sternly about the mischief we he had been accused of and let us go home. We thought we had lucked out, but he knew that word traveled faster than wheels in a small town and when it reached our parents, we would be back. And he was right.
The chief was gracious when my father marched me to the police station a couple of days later. He knew justice had been served because he also knew I respected the example set by my father…who was somewhat less gracious once we got home.
As a driver’s license officer, about the worst outcome of any meeting with Mr. Campbell might have been failing a driving test. Fortunately, my experience with him as a freshman for a driver’s license, a commercial license the summer I graduated from high school, and a motorcycle endorsement while in college all had good outcomes.
Still, Mr. Campbell was the perfect example of a uniformed officer of the law who commanded respect. His military-style stature and esprit de corps step exemplified dedication to the uniform he wore. More importantly, however, he was at the same time always polite, always professional, and always a good example to young people. I know he was to me which is why I was saddened to read that Mr. Campbell passed away May 25.
Although his job was to enforce the rules, I remember him as someone who set a good example as a neighbor, a Christian, and an officer of the law.
© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.