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Yes It’s True: Terry Whitley was our local Andy Griffith

In these days of modern times, the police have been taking a public relations beating. Whether deserved or undeserved is a matter of opinion, but the passing Sunday of retired Michigan State Police Trooper Terry Whitley marks a life lived with decency and dignity.

In my career I’ve known good cops and bad cops, and I can honestly say Terry Whitley was a solid example of the former. He was a firm and effective police officer who even gained the respect of many “bad actors” I knew.

Terry Whitley didn’t accomplish that by being the friend of the criminal. He earned respect from just about everybody who knew him because of his devotion to fairness.

Sometimes my impression of him was that he was the local version of the television portrayal of Sheriff Andy Taylor by Andy Griffith.

I had the privilege of getting to know him outside of his profession, where he was an extension of his chosen path of service. We went to the same church and we crossed paths many times in the social arena.

This may not sound like much, but I appreciated him sharing his expertise about techniques used in interrogations of suspects in 1994 just after Tonya Harding was detained in the Olympic ice skating scandal.

On a more personal level, he gave me the inside scoop of the final days of Kathryn Brenner before her tragic death in 1993 of cystic fibrosis, telling me what truly courageous and classy individual she was.

One of my favorite pictures has been of my stepfather, Wayne Goodwin, in rain gear grinning with Terry Whitley and his son, Aaron, obviously after a football game.

Terry and I had our differences. When I asserted all violent actions against the U.S. government were the result of right-wing whackos he reminded me of the Weathermen in the early 1970s.

Terry Whitley virtually always offered up a kind and rational voice, even when the going got tough.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here is a sample of comments made in reaction to his passing:

• Pat and Larry Velie: “We are so sorry to hear of Terry’s passing, but know heaven gained an angel. A true gentleman. Always kind, always a hello with a warm smile. Thinking of all of you.”

• Mark and Elise DeYoung: “Very much enjoyed every moment spent with Terry and Nancy. His quiet, loving nature will be missed, but always remembered. Love and prayers for his family from ours.”

• Nicole Walters: “Terry and Nancy have been coming to Bunker Hill with their friends nearly every Monday night, when they are here in Michigan, for about the last eight years. I have been lucky enough to wait on them each week. They truly have invited myself and my family into their circle, including us in holiday parties and sharing photos and stories. They are kind and wonderful people that I have been blessed to get to know. Terry’s kindness will be greatly missed by me. Nancy, you will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.”

• Linda Holcomb: “Nancy, I am so sorry to hear of the passing. He was always a kind caring person. I have known you both through the United Church and being an awesome neighbor. Prayers are with all of you.”

• Mel and Linda Stoepker: “Our heart felt condolences go out to Nancy and the rest of the family. Terry was a fine example of what a man should be.”

• Lynn Mandaville: Terry was what friends back in New Jersey would have called a mensch – a true human being in the very best way possible. Humble; kind; generous of time, hands and spirit; and loving. The world is more empty and wanting without him.”

COVER PHOTO: The late Terry Whitley and his wife, Nancy.

2 Comments

  • Terry gave me a ticket for speeding 35 1n a 25 zone. It was thanksgiving morning 1975 . I said but its thanksgiving he said the speed limit is the same every day. At first I was mad as hell. Then I thought if I did my job half assed I would not be there long. As time went by Terrys son Aaron and my son Shawn became best friends that has lasted for 40 years. When I see what a fine young man Aaron has turned out to be a good Dad had to be involved. I guess I can forgive him for that ticket it cost me $5 bucks.

    • For all those who resented the tickets, he was a man who lived by the book! But distributed justice with fairness. Thanks for sharing, Dennis. And kudos for good parenting a fine man like Shawn!

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