Bruce Ross has climbed out of his police cruiser and onto the saddle of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Ross, a stalwart of the East Ridge Police Department for 21 years, announced his retirement from the force earlier this month. He went out in style, too, being honored as the “Officer of the Year” at a recent Optimist Club fete for First Responders.
Ross said he was going to miss being a police officer, but the work never defined him as a man.
“My purpose was to go home every day,” Ross said recently during lunch. “I wanted to do what I had to do to go home.”
Home has been East Ridge since 1989. That’s when he and his wife Susie moved here from Brainerd. But it became clear during a talk with Ross that home is and always has been the 30-acre farm in Whitwell where generations of his family scratched more than just a living out of the soil. The loam of the valley had seeped into the soul of Leslie and Hazel Ross, Bruce’s parents, and the simple farm life became entrenched in their son.
“I remember my granddad (Charlie Mitchell) had a wagon and a team of mules,” Ross said. “We raised mules chickens and mules. I remember granddad going out with a shotgun and shooting rabbits that were eating up his garden.”
“You don’t realize what a great upbringing you had until you leave,” he said.
Before he left, Ross had that idyllic upbringing of a country boy. He went to church (Bethel Church) with his extended family. He worked the garden with his dad and granddad. He learned the value of education from his mother and grandmother (Pearl Mitchell), both career teachers in The Valley. He had the mini-bike as a boy and in his teens crawled on a dirt bike and started going out with his buddies to climb the steep hills in the countryside of Victoria and Ketner’s Mill.
But all things have a time. Ross graduated from Whitwell High School in 1977 and got him a job in the city. He worked at Wheland Foundry for five years. He saw men who couldn’t handle the rigorous, backbreaking grind of a foundry. Bruce never shied away from the hard work.
He may have stayed as a foundry worker _ he was in the steelworkers union _ but for the decline in the economy and the layoffs. All things have a time.
Bruce said that his Great-Uncle, Albert Hudson, was responsible for getting him interested in law enforcement. Hudson was the Chief of Police in Whitwell and provided something of a role model for Bruce.
“He gave me some great advice,” Ross said. “He told me to ‘keep your eyes and ears open, stay out of the politics of the job and you’ll be alright.'”
Ross took those words to heart.
Bruce said when the work began to dry up in the foundry he turned to working security in nightclubs in Chattanooga. He did stints at popular clubs of the day The Sports Page and Faces.
In the mid-80s he got on with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. Then-Sheriff Johnny Uselton hired him and Bruce worked inside the jail a couple days a week and on the road the other times.
“I ran into a friend who I had worked with in the bars and he was Security Chief at Parkridge HCA Hospital,” Ross said. “He told me he was going to create an in-house security force and I was the first guy he hired.”
A year-and-a-half later, Ross was promoted to Chief of Security at Parkridge. For four years he did it all there, hired and fired, internal investigations, the works.
Talented and skilled people who are good at what they do draw attention. Al Coker, Erlanger’s Chief of Security wanted Bruce on his team, so he offered him a job at the biggest hospital in town.
While a member of the Erlanger Police unit, Bruce attended the State Police Academy in Donaldson. Now he had the certification to work as a police officer anywhere.
“I heard that East Ridge had an opening,” Ross said. “I wanted to get back on the street and I was already (POST) certified.”
Obviously, Bruce got the job. He said it was June 2, 1994. Bill Muse was the Chief.
“Steve Mize was my training officer,” Ross said. “He was the best training officer anyone could have hoped for.”
Ross said that Mize was always giving him various scenarios when they were riding together during training.
“OK, what would you do if …,” Bruce said. “He was great.”
Over the last 25 years, Ross said he’s been able to make a difference in the lives of people in his chosen profession. His current boss, Chief J.R. Reed made mention during the officer of the year ceremony, that he has never heard anyone say anything derogatory about Ross. He used the words, “professional,” “honest,” “credible.”
Ross said the recipe for respect that he received from his fellow officers and the people that he protected was pretty simple.
“I always tried to treat people right,” he said. “You can deal with them if you treat them right. Of course, you will always run into one or two …”
Asked about memorable incidents in his career, Ross racked his brain. He scratched his head and considered, then he began with this story.
It was mid to late 1990s and we got into a car chase. He said that some guy and his buddy had stolen a truck. One of the guys got nervous and came to the police to confess. The man told officers who the other guy was and he agreed to set up his partner early one morning.
The man who turned himself in was going to set up a meet with his partner at 2 a.m. in the stolen truck up on Ringgold Road. Ross said the cops had it staked out and were in their cars behind various buildings along the highway.
“Something happened and the guy in the truck must have gotten spooked, ’cause he took off,” Ross said. “We started chasing him all over the place. We went up and over the Ridge into East Lake.
“I remember bottoming out coming down a hill and my car got,” he spread his hands about a foot apart, “up off the ground and papers and equipment went flying inside. I must have been whiter than a sheet,” he said.
Ross said that he now has a “Honey-Do” list from Susie that he’s taking care. His two children _ Charlie and Holly _ are all grown up.
“I’d like to to take a trip on the motorcycle,” Bruce said from the saddle of the ’05 Harley Springer that he has highly customized over the years. “I don’t know, maybe down to Florida our out west somewhere.”
He also said he was going to consider joining a shooting club. He said he enjoys firing pistols, and even offered to take this reporter along for some serious instruction from a man that has had a sidearm strapped to his side while performing his job as a member of the “Thin Blue Line” that keeps us all safe.
Godspeed, Bruce Ross. All the good people of East Ridge owe him a debt of gratitude for the job he’s done over the last 21 years. Enjoy your retirement.