Integrity, character praised as Everage retires

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, September 29, 2011

Even in his last day as police chief, Anthony Everage held fast to the humble, low-key leadership style that earned him the praise and accolades of his employees and federal judges alike.

“There were a lot of things said today,” Everage said after the public retirement ceremony. “But you can’t take credit for what a department of police officers does. They’re good, devoted people.”

And, he said, those officers motivated him as a leader. “I never wanted to disappoint the people I worked with or worked for,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence placed in me and never wanted to violate that.”

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Everage is retiring after serving 14 years as Troy’s police chief. More than 150 people attended the ceremony on Thursday, overflowing the municipal courtroom.

“We picked the biggest room in the city,” joked Mayor Jimmy Lunsford. “We should’ve known it wouldn’t be big enough.”

Like many who spoke on Thursday, Lunsford fought emotions as he talked about Everage.

“What do you say to describe him? I just started listing words and at the top of the list is ‘integrity.’ With Anthony, there’s no question – ever – about his integrity.”

And the mayor continued, “professionalism … character … ethical … honest … leadership … intelligent – although I’m not so sure since you took this job … tough … successful.”

The words formed the core of the themes echoed by those who followed: city council members, U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, District Attorney Tom Anderson, Municipal Judge Nick Cevera, and representatives of the district judge’s office, the Attorney General’s Office, Alabama Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals, fellow law enforcement leaders, from area departments and employees.

“You know, all of that stuff that everybody said today, well, it’s cliché but it’s true,” Jason Reeves said after the ceremony. “He did the right thing, and he did it the right way.”

Reeves, a city council member, is the son of former police chief Grady Reeves and a personal friend of Everage. “At the heart of government is protecting people’s lives and property, and we couldn’t have had a better man in these last 14 years than Anthony Everage,” Reeves said. “On a professional level we’re sad to see him go … on a personal level, I’m happy for my friend.”

Fighting emotion, Reeves ended his speech early. But afterwards, he shared another thought. “The one thing I wanted to say but couldn’t get out is a quote by Nelson Henderson: ‘The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.’ That’s exactly what Anthony has done.”

Johnny Witherington, president of the city council, has worked closely with Everage much of his 27 years on the council. The two have a standing lunch appointment every Tuesday; it’s an opportunity for them to share business and develop a friendship. It’s a bond that Witherington likened to the bond between the two Texas Rangers in “Lonesome Dove.” “If you’ve seen that movie, you’ll understand when I say this, ‘By God, Woodrow, it’s been a great ride.’”

Witherington said while Thursday was a day of celebration and happiness for Everage and his family, “for those of us who have worked with him, it’s also a solemn time in some ways.”

Fuller, who first worked with Everage while a district attorney in Pike County, summed up the sentiments of many in the judicial branch about working with Everage. “You’re the best police chief I ever worked with, bar none,” he said.

John Cloud of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montgomery said Everage set an example for others to follow.

“He’s the kind of person that everybody ought to aspire to be,” Cloud said. “He’s as honest as they come, with that down-home humor that people just naturally gravitate to …

“And the kind of people you’ve got in this police department are a direct result of the type of leadership you’ve got here.”

Everage led the department by a simple rule: always do the right thing. It was a philosophy he embodied as well.

“I was kind of worried about him getting (the police chief job) because he was so rigid,” said Louis Fannin, a retired officer. “Folks, this man’s got a spine of steel. I didn’t know if he was going to survive because if it wasn’t right, he didn’t want to have anything to do with it.”

But that dedication to always doing right proved to be the cornerstone of his leadership philosophy. “Anthony Everage is about doing the right thing,” Fannin said.

Jackie Carlisle has been Everage’s secretary for “14 years, seven months and 12 days. And every day has been a pleasure,” she told the crowd. “He’s honest, compassionate, intelligent and a good leader.”

And the two things she’ll miss the most? “His wit, although you have to be on your toes sometimes to get it, and those Bonefish Grill gift cards.”

After the tears and laughter, handshakes and hugs, Everage sat in his office for the last time and reflected on the people and the community he served as chief.

“The one thing that impressed me so much about Troy is the people. I saw this so many times in tragedies … you’d walk up to a scene and know that it was an awful thing, that somebody was about to be going through a terrible time and their life would be changing. But you also knew that the people of this town would surround them and support them …

“And you could get some kind of peace in knowing that.”

Capt. Jimmy Ennis will be sworn in as the new police chief at 10 a.m. today and, after that, Everage will settle into retirement, taking with him the experiences and friendships developed during his career in Troy. “It will take some time to adjust,” he admitted. “I can’t remember a day that’s gone by that there wasn’t something in my mind dealing with work … it will be an adjustment for me to realize these aren’t my problems any more.”