End of the line

Published 9:23 pm Saturday, December 12, 2009

WOODLAND — Though his official title was Chief of Police for 17 years, at the end of the day Don Ryan is known simply as a community man.

Last Sunday, town and law enforcement officials along with Ryan’s family members and citizens gathered at the Woodland Town Hall to congratulate him on retirement.

For nearly two decades, Ryan protected and served the town of Woodland as the only full time officer. His decision to retire came at the beginning of this year.

“I’ll miss knowing (what’s going on) and the people,” he said of retirement.

Though his duties as police chief are officially over, it’s been hard for Ryan to hang up his hat. He admits it’s tough to just switch off the thought of accountability after a law enforcement career that spans 30 years.

As he passes those on the Woodland streets, Ryan still gives them an observing glance and then reminds himself he doesn’t have to worry about it any more.

“I still have that sense of responsibility,” he said. “I guess I have to shed my old habits.”

Originally from Rutland, Vermont, Ryan began his law enforcement career in the Army as a military police officer in 1966.

After six years, Ryan started work with the Clearwater Police Department in Clearwater, Fla. Earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Ryan served again as a military officer in the Navy.

Purchasing the former Minute Man store in the George community is the reason Ryan and his family relocated to the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Ryan worked with Jernigan Oil, before delving back into law enforcement in 1992 when he accepted the Chief of Police position at the Woodland Police Department.

At his retirement party, Ryan stood with his successor, new Police Chief Jesse Stevens, greeting those that came through the door.

Life long resident Ruby Keene has known Ryan since he moved to the town, first meeting him at the Minute Man.

“Chief Ryan is a wonderful man, truly a remarkable man,” she said.

Keene said Ryan is deeply rooted in the town, recalling how the former police chief once coached a little league team.

“Don did a lot of things for Woodland, he tried to get young people active in the community,” she said. “I’ll miss him as a police chief and as a member of the law enforcement team (in the area). He’d be there day or night for you.”

Nearly three years ago when Mike and Wendy Harrington first moved to Woodland, Chief Ryan introduced himself. And so began the friendship between Ryan and their son, Michael, 7. The former always going out of his way to talk to the Harrington’s son.

“He (Ryan) has really made a connection with him,” said Mrs. Harrington.

Mr. Harrington said the family always knows when Chief Ryan was around as their son would shout, “There’s Chief Ryan.”

“His sirens are really loud,” Michael interjected.

Conway Police Chief Billy Duke stopped in to congratulate his fellow law enforcement colleague.

Duke said he’s known Ryan since he was named Woodland Chief of Police. The lawmen’s departments each had mutual aid agreements with each other.

“We’ve always worked well together,” he said. “Anytime I had a problem, he was more than willing to help me.”

Public Works Director Robbie Collier presented Ryan with a plaque of appreciation from the town.

Ryan said much of retirement will be spent with his seven grandchildren, all of which were in attendance at the party, and, a “honey do this” and “honey do that” list from his wife, Sue.

Taking a daily walk is also at the top of retirement activities for Ryan.

“There’s not a lot of time to devote to yourself (in this field),” he said.

The couple’s daughters Michelle Adams and Donielle McDermott were also in attendance.

Adams credits her father for helping her become the person she is today.

“He was always fair (as a law enforcement officer) and he is that kind of dad,” she said. “He’s very honest and a man of integrity for sure.”

The new Chief said he will continue where Ryan left off.

“We’re certainly going to miss him, but he deserves his retirement,” Stevens said.

Ryan said he’s sure Stevens will do well as police chief.

“He’s got a lot of good ideas, he wants to get children involved with karate and after school projects,” Ryan said. “His heart is in the right place.”

He added Stevens shares an important principle with himself in the way he approaches law enforcement: treat people the way you want to be treated.

“When you’ve got the support of the community that’s half of the battle won right there,” he said.

Ryan is looking forward to the simple things in life, not having to set the alarm for an early wake up and playing video games with his grandchildren.

Ryan said he’s not leaving town any time soon and Woodland will continue to be his home.

“I love Woodland, I love the area, the slow-paced life,” he said. “This will be the last place I live.”