Columbus chiefs hang up hats

Published 12:37 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Columbus City Council honored Fire Chief Geoff Tennant and Police Chief Clyde Butch Kennedy for their years of service to the community during the Thursday, Dec. 16 council meeting.

The two men both plan to retire by the beginning of 2011.

Tennant began battling blazes 35 years ago, joining the Columbus department in 1975. He was appointed fire chief seven years later and has remained in that position for 28 years.

You really dont realize how much this gentleman works until you listen to the scanner, said Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre. You really dont realize how much he does for this community until you stop and think about everything hes been involved in.

Tennant received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award for extraordinary service to the state. This is the highest honor bestowed upon a citizen of North Carolina. He was also awarded the Fire Officer of the Year award by the Western North Carolina Association of Firefighters in 2006.

He also serves to this day as chairman of the Polk County School Board and as a member of the Polk County Rescue Squad.

I may give up responding at 3 oclock in the morning to a call of a cat in a tree, he said.

Tennant said he answered those 3 a.m. calls for so long, because of the people he works with each day.

I feel a sense of responsibility for them. If the building falls in on me, thats unfortunate for me, but if it falls on one of my people I want to be there to do what I can do to make sure every one of my folks go home, he said.

Another regular Columbus face plans to take a break himself. This will be Butch Kennedys second retirement.

Kennedys wife, Becky, said former City Manager Glenn Rhodes came to their front door four years ago to specifically ask her husband to take on the job as police chief. Butch had been retired for seven years from the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

I just felt like it was such an honor for them to ask him to come and straighten out the town and he has, she said.

Assistant Chief Chris Beddingfield said Kennedy accomplished more in his four years as chief than Beddingfield knew was possible.

When Butch took over the department it was in turmoil, Beddingfield said. He was coming into a hornets nest, and I do mean a hornets nest, but he cleaned it up.

Town administrators credit Kennedy for building a staff with more than 120 years of combined service, updating the departments vehicle fleet, instituting the reporting of regular crime statistics to the state and seeking grants to purchase new bullet proof vests. He also moved the department from the basement of City Hall to its own building and redesigned officer uniforms.

Beddingfield thanked Kennedy for his professionalism, ethics and character.

He said everyone around knew Butch by name even if they were just driving through.

Almost every car we stop, even today, they ask, Is Butch Kennedy still the chief over there? He gave me my first ticket, Beddingfield recounted stirring laughter throughout the council chambers.

Beddingfield said Kennedy has more than earned his retirement.