Williams, who grew up in Jasper, now patrols Lewis Smith Lake and other area waterways as a member of the Marine Police Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
I had the opportunity Wednesday morning to spend a little time with Williams on Smith Lake. While interviewing him for today’s front page piece about water safety, we spent some time chatting about what led him to his current occupation.
“This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was about 2 years old,” he said.
Williams told me he spent a lot of time outdoors as a child. He said his father constantly took him to Smith Lake, and the family liked to camp at Clear Creek. Williams said a long-time family friend played the most pivotal role in his path to patroling waters.
Sgt. Tommy Cagle spent 25 years on Smith Lake as an Alabama Marine Police. Williams called Cagle his role model.
“I grew up with Sgt. Tommy Cagle being like a second father to me,” Williams said. “I spent a lot of time with him growing up, and he made a major impact on my life.”
At 5 years old, Williams said he had a replica marine police uniform, which was made by Cagle’s wife, Nita. He said Cagle even made sure he had a “real” badge for the uniform.
“There is a picture of me in that uniform that I just love,” Williams said. “I can look at that photo now and see the determination in my eyes. I wanted to be a marine police and nothing was going to stop me.”
With only 60 marine police across the state, Williams said it was a tough road to his current position, but Cagle was always there to help.
“Tommy poured out his knowledge to me,” Williams said. “As I worked toward this, he was always there for me. He gave me his full support.”
Williams started his career as a marine police officer in Orange Beach, but, after a year, he transferred to Walker County when Cagle retired.
Williams said it was an honor to follow his mentor, and Cagle continued to help him, even after his retirement.
“When we had a drowning in 2010, Tommy Cagle was there all nine days that we searched for the body,” Williams said. “He volunteered a lot of time.”
After knowing Cagle for pretty much his entire life, Williams is now having to get used to not having him around. Cagle passed away at his Jasper residence on May 15.
“He was a great friend, and he meant so much to me,” Williams said. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks. Tommy Cagle loved Walker County, and he loved Smith Lake. He dedicated his life to making sure that people were safe on these waters.”
Just from the short time that I spent with Williams on Friday, it is obvious that Cagle would have been proud of him. Williams has a passion about his job that is obvious from the minute he starts talking about patroling Smith Lake.
Williams said a day doesn’t pass that he doesn’t say a prayer for the people on Smith Lake. He said as he drives in his truck he prays for the safety of the folks on the water.
“This is my home, and I want to do everything I can to make sure that people enjoy Smith Lake, have plenty of fun but stay above the water line,” Williams said.
It’s great to see the guy that patrols our waterway has such a passion about that task. I’m thankful he’s out there. Let’s make his job easier this weekend and think safety first when we’re out having fun, celebrating Memorial Day at the lake.
James Phillips is Editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.