Charles Ward strode into Judge Shannon Clark’s courtroom in Enterprise accompanied by the court liaison officer—and then stopped in his tracks as he realized that the room was filled with Coffee County court officials waiting for his arrival.
“Well, you got me,” the longtime law officer said flashing his trademark grin and shaking his head. “I am overwhelmed.”
Ward is the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Department of Public Safety Director who retired April 30 after some three decades of public service. The Ozark native was thanked for that service at a surprise retirement event held in the Coffee County Courthouse in Enterprise April 20.
“The idea for this started when I received a message from a member of our community who expressed their appreciation for your lifetime of service,” said Clark, the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Judge who helped organize the surprise. “Some of the interesting stories this person told me were that they can recall when you used to deliver newspapers, worked at the grocery store, managed a skating rink and even drove a school bus—all of which you were doing while you were in high school,” she said.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well,” Clark said, quoting essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Col. Ward, you have accomplished all this and more. We wanted to tell you how much we appreciate you and thank you for your service.”
Ward was appointed ALEA’s Department of Public Safety Acting Director in November 2016 and then Director in May 2017. He has served as a member of ALEA/DPS since 1985, with almost 30 years working his way up the ranks in Highway Patrol. Ward also spent some time in Protective Services and the Office of Inspection.
In May 2015, Ward was promoted to Highway Patrol Major. He was recognized for leading the Dothan Post in DUI arrests in 1986; was named 1987 Trooper of the Year by the Dothan Optimist Club; and was named the 2005 Alabama Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by the Alabama Attorney General. Gov. Kay Ivey appointed Ward in Jan. 11, 2019, to the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission.
But it all began in Ozark, said longtime friend and Enterprise attorney Paul Young. “His Dale County friends call him ‘Charles’ and his Coffee County friends call him ‘Charlie’ but to me he is ‘colonel,’” Young said. “And he’s earned that rank from the bottom up. He went from dispatcher in the Ozark Police Department to fireman before going to the state trooper academy in 1985.
Ward’s first state trooper assignment was to Coffee County in 1985. He then transferred to Dale County. During his 36 years with ALEA Ward has served in multiple capacities to include special operations, traffic homicide and the SWAT Team. He served as the personal escort for several Troy University football coaches for the past 20 plus years.
“When you look at that badge he has on, most people look at it as a representation of authority but the Colonel has not ever looked at it that way,” Young said. “To him it is a call to service—service with honor, strength, integrity and courage.
“Those are all character traits that he possesses and has demonstrated over the course of his life,” Young said. “He’s done everything from coordinating troopers during hurricanes to saving a fellow officer’s life.
“When you look at the sidearm he’s carrying, some people think about that as something that would take a life; the Colonel looks at it as something to save a life. When you look at the shoulder patch that he wears, it has the Alabama coat of arms on it. Some people would look at it as just an adornment on a uniform but to the Colonel it’s a reminder of why he put on that uniform, that gun belt, every day.
“On that patch is the motto, ‘We dare defend our rights,’” Young added. “That is something that the colonel has been doing all of his adult life.”
Young said that he and Ward “occasionally butted heads in the courtroom,” but have remained true friends. “When he was appointed ALEA DPS Director somebody asked me what I thought about a black man being in charge of the state’s largest law enforcement agency and told him, ‘I don’t see a black man, I see a man. I see someone whose integrity and honesty are beyond question. All I can say to you now Colonel, is God speed, I love you and we are proud of you.”
“Charles Ward has been the same person since I met him back in the early 1980s,” said Presiding Twelfth Circuit Judge Jeff Kelley. “He’s always been a person that you could depend on, a person with honesty and integrity. I just wish you the best of luck.”
“Col, Ward and I met when I was at the district attorney’s office and I’ll never forget the first time I met him,” said Coffee County District Judge Josh Wilson. “He was a major then and I knew if the Major was coming to court it must be pretty serious.
“Your reputation has always preceded you, you are a larger-than-life figure in my life because as a wet behind the ears assistant district attorney, you always took me under your wings,” Wilson said. “I’ve always appreciated you for that.”
“Coffee County was where I started as a young trooper,” Ward said, thanking the group for their tributes. “Judge (Gary) McAliley was the district judge, (retired Circuit Judge) Tom Head was the new assistant district attorney.
“The greatest court system in the state is right here in Coffee County. The only reason I left Coffee County is that I had an opportunity to go back home to Dale County,” Ward said. “And I always said if I ever have to leave Dale County, send me back to Coffee County.
“I want to tell you I was a ticket writing fool when I came to town,” Ward said shaking his head and laughing at the memory. “Everyone has said some mighty great things in here but I hope at the end of the day the legacy that I leave is that I have been a servant, that I have helped people all across this great state.
“I am absolutely about public safety. I am about being a servant. I always have believed that. That’s why I got into law enforcement, to serve the community,” Ward said. “I always believed in helping people even though we were out enforcing laws. I learned that early on.
“Paul (Young) talked about us butting heads. I used to get irritated when I didn’t quite win some cases but what it taught me was that is the judicial system, that’s why we’ve got it,” Ward said. “It made me a better person when I lost some trials because it made me better prepare for court and it all really taught me how to treat people.
“Never forgetting where I came from,” is what Ward credits for his successful career. “I tell people that I’m not leaving. The good Lord just laid it on my heart that I can’t stay forever,” he said. “I’ll move into a little bit of retired life, spend time with family and then I’ll do whatever the good Lord leads me to do after that point.”