Promotion helps trooper realize a lifelong dream

Friday, March 28, 2008
'Tommy' Spivy, center at right, is congratulated on his promotion by Col. Mike Walker, commander of the Tennesse Highway Patrol.

It's not every day you get to glad-hand the commander of the Tennessee Highway Patrol while he sings your praises to everyone within earshot, so if Tommy Spivy is still savoring the moment that's understandable.

After 30 years of service to your fellow man, you've earned a public "well done."

Special Agent William "Tommy" Spivy of Lewisburg is one of 11 state troopers who were promoted during a ceremony Monday in Nashville. Col. Mike Walker, Tennessee's head trooper, was on hand to do the honors personally.

Spivy's family was also on hand to share in his moment of recognition. Sons Will and Brett followed their father into law enforcement. Will, a former dispatcher with the Marshall County Sheriff's office and Lewisburg Police officer, is now a trooper stationed in Lincoln County. Brett, who recently earned his criminal justice degree from UT at Martin, is a police officer in Franklin.

Taking it all in was his wife, Cecilia, a lawyer who practices in Lewisburg.

Spivy's first assignment as a trooper for the Tennessee Highway Patrol was in Lincoln County back in 1978. Since then, he's wore out untold sets of tires patrolling the highways and byways of middle Tennessee and worked both as a member of the governor's security detail and as a safety education officer.

Spivy earned his sergeant's stripes in 1990. Monday, he was promoted to special agent with the Highway Patrol's Criminal Investigations Department.

"We do vehicular assaults, vehicular homicides, auto theft, identity theft you name it, we do it," he says of his new responsibilities. "We basically do pretty much any of the stuff a regular detective would do."

For Spivy, the promotion is the realization of a long-held personal ambition.

"Being in criminal investigations is something I've always wanted to do," he confides. "But, before, it was always a case of not ever being at the right place at the right time. Now the time and the place have come together. I'm finally getting to do something I've always wanted to do."

Not that the last 30 years have not been satisfying. Spivy will tell you real quick he's had a fulfilling career thus far. He singles out his years with the governor's security detail during the terms of Lamar Alexander and Ned McWhorter as "a pretty cool assignment."

"A lot of people don't realize that the governor's security detail is responsible not only for the lives of the governor and the first family, but for the residence itself," he says.

While the job of a secret service agent may carry a certain cachet, it also places stringent demands upon those who would wear the badge.

"Basically, I lived with a suitcase packed and ready to go the whole time I worked the governor's security detail," Spivy sighs. "You never knew when you would be called away from home, sometimes for days at a time. You had to be ready to travel at a moment's notice. For example, you might get a call at 10 o'clock at night telling you to be ready to travel at 6:30 the next morning. That's pretty much the life of the governor's security detail."

The members of the governor's security detail accompany the governor both in state and out of state. On occasion they are also assigned to work security for visiting dignitaries.

"I got to work with and around some pretty cool people," Spivy recalls. "For the most part they did not treat you like a taxi driver. Occasionally you'd run into someone who tried to, but most of them were very appreciative of what you were doing for them."

Asked if he was ever aware of one of his charges engaging in the sort of rendezvous that prompted New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's recent fall from grace, Spivy hesitates. "I might have had that happen to me once or twice," he says vaguely.

One of the "cool people" he remembers most from his days on the governor's security detail was the late William F. Buckley, voice of the modern conservative movement and a noted raconteur.

"He was very interested in Tennessee in general and what kind of upbringing I'd had in particular," Spivy recalls with genuine enthusiasm. "We shared a number of similar incidents that had taken place in both our lives."

One of Spivy's most treasured memories revolves around an unnamed governor of Georgia whom he had been assigned to protect while the man visited Tennessee.

At the end of a hectic day, the governor in question took a suite at Nashville's opulent Opryland Hotel and made ready to unwind as Spivy prepared to slip off unobtrusively to the far more spartan quarters dictated by THP budget restraints.

"He sort of grinned at me," Spivy says, chuckling at the memory. "Then, very serious, he said, 'That will never do. I need you closer than that.' The bottom line is I ended up getting a room just down the hall from his, all because he wanted to see me took care of. You remember little things like that."

As Spivey prepares to take up his new duties, he shares what has kept him

"I got into law enforcement because I like being able to help people," he explains. "Sure, you have to write a ticket every once in awhile. But the way I look at it, you may have made that person think before they break that law again -- and you may have even saved their life."

But as is true for most people who work at a job for 30 years and who do it well and with pride, Spivy nurtures other, deeper motivations for his years of dedication, motivations he seldom shares.

"To me, there wasn't a better feeling in the world than to come up on a woman who was stranded on the side of some road and was maybe a little bit afraid and be able to help her get to where she was headed safely," Spivy says. "Because deep down I've always had this fear that my wife in all her traveling would be stranded and the wrong person would pull up to help her.

"For the same reason, I didn't mind working accident scenes. A lot of people in this job don't like that assignment. But I've had three members of my family killed in car crashes. When you've been there on that side, and you know what it feels like, you have that compassion for people. You know what they're feeling, and you want to help."