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Monday, June 16, 2008

God Rest You, Chief

Blogging will be relatively nonexistent for a while.

My family, and indeed, the entire town of Oxford, Mississippi, suffered a great loss this weekend. John "Chief" Tidwell - whom my wife called Daddy, my children, Grandpa, and me...well, to me he was just John, and that was a lot - shrugged off this mortal coil on the afternoon of Saturday, June 14th. And the world already seems much the less for his passing.

Deeply loved and respected by family and friends alike. And most definitely by his sons-in-law. He was a great man, a large soul, a huge personality and a hell of a teacher. He'll be sorely, sorely missed.

A brief obit in the Tupelo paper. And please take note:
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society, P.O. Box 1674, Oxford, MS 38655.

But we'll see you out on the trails John. No doubt. Always.

Week past update: My sister-in-law, over at her bookstore blog, put up the text of a profile that ran in the local paper. It's worth a read to get more of a sense of the man, but at the same time, it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of who he was:

John McCain Tidwell, known to most in and around Oxford simply as "Chief," died Saturday, June 14, at Baptist Memorial Hospital. He was 68. With his passing, yet another piece of old Oxford slips away into history.

Tidwell earned his nickname in Oxford from his work in law enforcement, first serving as assistant chief, then Chief of Police of the University of Mississippi Police Department, and finally as a private investigator. As a figure of authority and respect, even out of uniform, his identity as "Chief" reached well beyond the confines of his profession.

Tidwell's civic contributions extended into the business community of Oxford when he opened Ireland's, an Irish pub and restaurant, in 1982. The popular local hang-out fostered some of the town's most notable cultural talent in the 1980s, including writers Barry Hannah and Larry Brown, as well as Beanland, the local rock band who played some of their earliest gigs at Ireland's before achieving wider renown.

As bar owner, Tidwell provided an environment that was as welcoming of construction workers, plumbers and painters as it was of a National Book Award winner. "He always had a twinkle and a merriness," recalled Barry Hannah. "He had a joke, and it was barbed, but always with those merry eyes. A man of authentic character, the kind of people I came to Oxford for."

Tidwell was born in 1939 in Meridian, Mississippi, to Floyd McCain Tidwell and Rubye I. Tidwell. He spent most of his youth in Louisville, Mississippi, before the family relocated to Hazel Park, Michigan, where Tidwell graduated high school in 1957. He married Carol Lynn Johnson on September 3, 1960, in Detroit, Michigan.

Tidwell served as a corporal in the Army's 82nd Airborne before joining the Detroit Police Department, where he walked a beat during years of growing unrest. He served as a patrolman on a special enforcement unit for four years, the source of many stories he shared in the years to follow.

Ultimately, Tidwell returned to Mississippi, where he joined the Louisville Police Department as a detective. In 1973, while assistant chief for the University of Mississippi Police Department, he graduated from the FBI National Academy, then, while serving as Chief and raising a family, earned a degree in criminal justice from the University of Mississippi in 1976. During his years as police chief at UPD, he continued his education in police work, specializing in numerous disciplines from hostage negotiation to bomb threat response.

Local attorney Ron Lewis, who worked with Tidwell on many cases over the years, said, "John had tremendous energy and integrity and knew how to get to the facts."

An avid hunter, outdoorsman, and motorcycle enthusiast, Tidwell divided his time between his home in Oxford and a cabin in Daggett, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. The well-tended acres of land he cultivated, both North and South, are a living testament to his work ethic and respect of nature.

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