Submitted Photo Former Loudon Police Chief Johnny Lennex was known by colleagues, friends and mentors for his poise and support.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012Author: Stephanie Myers
(Last modified: 2012-09-12 11:15:43)
Former Loudon Police Chief Johnny Lennex, the longest-serving Loudon top officer at 22 years, was known by colleagues, friends and mentors for his poise and support.
Lennex died Sunday after a brief battle with cancer. He was 75.
Current Chief James Webb said Lennex was a man of character, standing by his officers through thick and thin.
Patrolman and School Resource Officer Kenny Ridings said gray was not a shade on Lennex's color palette.
"It was either black or white with him," Ridings, whose father also worked under Lennex, said. "He was just always good to me. He was always fair. He treated everybody alike."
For Webb, Lennex was a mentor throughout his life, from childhood through learning the ropes of law enforcement. Webb joined the department in 1988, a couple years prior to Lennex's retirement.
"One of my childhood heroes. Little boys they look up to police officers, or they did whenever I was a kid anyway," Webb said, mentioning spending countless hours at his grandmother's house located across the street from city hall where Lennex worked.
"Most of those police officers back at the time were people I grew up admiring. I think all of those police officers that were working back at that time were what I would refer to as a childhood hero and chief Lennex was the leader of that organization," he said.
"He was also somebody all the police officers could look up to and say this is the kind of police officer I want to be. He was very firm person but I always felt like he was fair," Webb said.
It was Lennex's structure that prepared Webb for his current role.
"His rules and regulations that were laid out were simple and he told you what he expected of you, and as long as you did the job the way he told you to do it you didn't have any problems with him," Webb said. "He wouldn't come hard on you if you made a mistake necessarily, because everyone makes mistakes, but if you did something dumb and out of line he corrected you and you learned a lesson from it."
The way Lennex corrected his officers?
"Nothing more to what we refer to nowadays as a verbal warning," Webb said with a laugh. "Most everything that I remember and the stories I tell about him are the kind of things police officers don't share outside of the shop."
Webb said it was Lennex's rules that once landed a conviction in a Monroe County homicide. It was policy under Lennex's day for the night shift to get personal information on anyone traveling back roads at night.
One night, two patrol officers made their way to an old ferry landing when they noticed two men covered in blood.
The men claimed to have been slaughtering chickens.
After recording their information, one of the officers kept a knife they had found.
"It turned up that knife was the murder weapon," Webb said. "... They successfully prosecuted those people because the police officers were following the rules and regulations that Chief Lennex laid out.
"Sometimes the job we do is not necessarily popular and we can fall under criticism, but if you are enforcing the law and protecting the public then you need to, no matter how bad the criticism is, you need to have someone behind you and support you," Webb said. "Chief Lennex was probably the best example of that."
Lennex was drafted and served in Germany with the U.S. Army. After returning home, he joined Loudon Police Department in 1962. He was promoted to chief in 1969.
After retiring in 1991, Lennex spent his days fishing and playing golf. City Recorder Stephanie Putkonen, who became acquainted with the former chief during coffee breaks at city hall, remembers playing alongside Lennex during a recent employee golf tournament. The game was rained out, but Putkonen said Lennex had a competitive streak when it came to golf.
"Just golfers who love golf are competitive," Putkonen said. "It was a pleasure working with him the time I did. He was a good friend. He just was, he was somebody I was glad to see when I saw him."
Lennex operated by the same sense of fairness, whether on the golf course or on the job.
"It was probably the reason why he was so successful and able to be the police chief for 22 years because he did what the police chief is supposed to do," Webb said.
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