By Joel Hall
For as long as he can remember, T.W. (Thomas Wayne) Rowland, chief of Jonesboro's police department, has had a great desire to help people. After 24 years as an U.S. Marine, 11 years as a jail supervisor for the Henry County Sheriff's Department, and 10 years working for the Jonesboro Police Department, Rowland will retire at the end of this year.
When Rowland came to the Jonesboro Police Department in 1998, he was a patrolman in a department of fewer than 10 people. Since then, the department has grown to include 27 full-time officers, five reserve officers, and 10 part-time crime-database clerks.
Rowland, 67, who has served as police chief since 2007, said he is proud to have been a part of the changes. "I have a lot of satisfaction in having been a part of this station growing to what it is now," said Rowland. "It's been a great time of my life. I really enjoy helping these people in Jonesboro. I enjoy working with them and for them."
While Rowland was born in Lynchburg, Va., and spent his early childhood in Selma, Ala., his roots are in Georgia. At the age of 11, he moved to Atlanta with his father, an employee of Southern Railway (before it became Norfolk Southern) and his mother, who worked for the F.W. Woolworth Company. He grew up in the Lakewood Heights area of Atlanta and graduated from Fulton High School in 1959.
Rowland's first job out of high school was operating a printing press for Sears, Roebuck and Co., at it's old Ponce de Leon Avenue location. He worked there until 1963, when he learned that he would be one of many young men drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Rather than be drafted into the Army, he voluntary enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
"I wanted to have a little more choice in what I did, so I decided to join the Marines," he said. "If I went, I wanted to be with what I considered the best, and it was the best."
Rowland's passion for the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) can be seen all over his office at 170 South Main Street in Jonesboro. His desk is decorated with golf balls bearing U.S. Marine symbols, while his walls contain honorary plaques for his more than two decades of service. Like a small monolith, a stone engraved with the USMC crest sits prominently on his cabinet shelf.
For 13 months, starting in 1969, Rowland was stationed at Marble Mountain and Danang, Vietnam, working in the aircraft, firefighting and rescue division. His primary duties were extracting pilots from shot-down aircraft and putting out the fires.
"It was hot and heavy when I joined over there," he said. "We took a lot of fire. It wasn't like being out in the bush, but it was right in the middle of a war."
After the war, Rowland was based in North and South Carolina, Iwakuni and Okinawa, Japan, and Kaneohe, Hawaii, before retiring as a Master Gunnery Sergeant in 1987. Afterward, he moved to Jonesboro, and began working as a supervisor in the Henry County Jail.
Rowland said his basic training at Parris Island, S.C., prepared him for what he would face in the field of law enforcement. The driving motivation throughout his career as a Marine, a jail supervisor, a patrolman, and a police chief has been the deep satisfaction he gets from protecting people, he said.
He said that after Dec. 31, he would donate his time to taking care of Brenda, his wife of 41 years. His companion since the early days of his Marine Corps career, Brenda developed a degenerative heart disease several years ago, he said.
"She had two open heart surgeries in the past, and several angioplasty procedures," said Rowland. "I'm not really ready to retire." However, "she has helped me for all these years. Now, it is time for me to help her."
Brad Johnson, a major in the police department, will assume the position of chief in January. He said the police department will be missing a "great asset."
"We're going to miss him for sure," said Johnson. "He's got [the police department] heading in the right direction. That's what we're going to try to continue to do."
Rowland said he would spend his retirement taking care of his wife and pursuing golf, one of his other passions. He is confident the police department has been left in good hands.
"I'm hoping the department will continue to grow as it has and continue to be here and serve the citizens of Jonesboro the way they deserve to be looked after," he said. "I have the utmost confidence in the people here that they will be able to continue to do that."