If heaven has Game Wardens, they just got an incredible Assistant Chief.
Mike Pollard passed away earlier this year at the age of 51. The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and his family and friends buried him in the small cemetery beside the Rocky Branch Baptist Church in rural Randolph County.
The funeral service, held in Opelika, and the graveside service were conducted in their totality by present and former employees of the Division. Whether this was by design or just happened that way, it was a powerful manifestation of the strong, almost familial bond among the employees of the Division.
A very modest, low-key individual, Mike would have blushed at all the attention. He would have wanted to leave the chapel to get back into the outdoors he loved so much.
The sermon by retired Captain Don Herring offered comfort from God’s Word to the family in their bereavement. Each of the classic bluegrass gospel selections performed by Fisheries Biologist Graves Lovell and retired Fisheries Chief Barry Smith captured the earthy, natural feel Mike loved so much.
Eulogies from Sgt. Keith Mann, Sgt. Carter Hendrix, recently retired Officer Jeff Brown and retired Chief Allan Andress were so real that even if you had never known Mike, you came to know his exceptional character. An a cappella rendition of "Amazing Grace" by Sgt.Michael East drove home the extraordinary spirituality characterizing so many of the professionals who spend their lives working outdoors in God’s creation.
Andress served as Mike’s supervisor throughout his career, initially as Captain in the district where Mike first came to work, and then as Chief Conservation Enforcement Officer. He characterized Mike Pollard as having "the heart of a lion and the spirit of a warrior." This strong but gentle persona bespoke the Mike Pollard we all knew well: manly, but mannerly; humble, but self-assured; very principled, but reasonable.
Mike Pollard was a "Game Warden’s Game Warden," slow and patient when he needed to be, but fast as lightning when the occasion arose, tactically aware and skilled, but calm and measured in his approach, always displaying grace under pressure. Having had the treasured opportunity to interact with literally hundreds of these dedicated law enforcement officers, I can unequivocally state there has never been a better man to put on a Game Warden’s uniform than Mike. And there is not a person in the Division who would disagree with me.
|This print of Frances Tipton Hunter’s Trouble Brewing was the most prominent feature in the office of Assistant Chief Mike Pollard.|
Mike grew up hunting with family and close friends. As a young man, he worked in his father’s family-owned hardware store. Like so many, his early life experiences sparked a burning interest in conservation law enforcement as a career.
When Mike was getting a degree in Criminal Justice at Auburn, he did his internship with the Division – against the advice of his professors at the University who wanted him to work with the police department.
The Game Warden in Lee County at the time was Robert Siedler, who was not at all sure about the "baby-faced boy." The two of them were like the "Odd Couple," as different as night and day – except for the principled part and the hard-working part. The two became very close partners.
Mike worked for a period as a Lee County Deputy Sheriff and, when the opportunity became available, came to work for the then-Game & Fish Division, now Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries. His dream job as a Game Warden became a reality. And he pursued the job with an unexcelled passion.
He possessed the perfect mix of compassion and aggressiveness. The hard-core game law violators’ worst nightmare, Mike worked collaboratively with fellow officers to arrest night hunters, road hunters, baiters and other game hogs. Yet, he always exercised good judgment, common sense, and discretion in dealing with hunters and fishermen.
A rare mix of old-school Game Warden and innovative, new-age officer, Mike was on the cutting edge of new natural-resources law enforcement tactics. Yet he always remained grounded in traditional conservation law enforcement.
Mike pioneered the use of GPS technology in the Division. Today, GPS plays a major role in working serious violations like night hunting and hunting over bait. Working hand-in-glove with the local district attorney, Mike researched and developed the use of checkpoints as an enforcement tool on public roads in high hunting activity areas.
This strategy, carefully following legal guidelines, results in highly effective, focused law enforcement, while minimizing inconvenience to the public.
If character were rated on a scale of 1 to 10, Mike would have gotten a 12. He dedicated his time and effort to two priorities - his family and his work. As Don Herring put it, "Mike honored his father and mother."
As the youngest of his brothers, Mike was still living at home when his father died. On his deathbed, his dad asked Mike to take care of his mom. He spent many years doing just that. In fact, he passed up a promotion or two that would have required moving away from his mother.
Serving a stint as supervisor at the District level, Mike relied not on rank but on the earned respect of fellow officers. Known for his firm but fair approach, he provided a guiding hand for rookies and seasoned officers alike.
Promoted against his will to the Montgomery Office, Mike moved up to the No. 2 position in the law enforcement section. His calm temperament, impeccable character, extensive field experience and natural leadership ability helped shape and mold a model enforcement program. A team player, Mike never put self-interest ahead of the program.
The walls of Assistant Chief Mike Pollard’s office bore no elaborate displays of his extensive personal accomplishments. The most prominent feature was a relatively small, framed print of a Frances Tipton Hunter painting depicting a barefoot young boy catching a very small fish with a pole and line. The boy is right beside a big sign reading "FISHING FORBIDDEN." There is a Game Warden standing in the bushes up the bank behind the boy with his forefinger and thumb on his chin as if he’s contemplating what to do with the young violator.
This little print captures the ever-present challenge that Game Wardens face – sorting out the wide variety of people they encounter in a day’s work and using common sense in how they respond. Mike Pollard was a master at this difficult task. Doing it well is the mark of a real Game Warden.
Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.