In his 33-month tenure as Brownwood’s police chief, Terry Nichols was valued as the leader of the police department and friend of the community.
Nichols’ tenure was cemented Wednesday at a farewell reception in honor of himself and his wife, Nicky, at the Depot Civic and Cultural center, where a large group of friends, colleagues and city officials gave the departing chief a celebratory — and emotional — sendoff.
Nichols, whose last day on the job was Wednesday after starting work in July 2016, will become police chief in Seguin. The move will place Nichols and his wife closer to other family members.
Colleagues presented Nichols with gifts, photos and memorabilia, and City Manager Emily Crawford gave Nichols his Brownwood police badge to keep.
“I’ve told the men and women of the department they did not have to welcome me into their family,” Nichols said. “Police are a strange creature sometimes, and they can shut you out very quick. They did not have to embrace me. But they did.”
Nichols said his message to the police department was “do not stop … keep doing what you’re doing.”
‘That says a lot about that guy’
Brownwood school Superintendent Dr. Joe Young was the first of Nichols’ colleagues who offered tributes.
“The collaboration between the Brownwood ISD and police department was there before Chief Nichols came, but when he came it really kicked it up another notch,” Young said. “He taught us some things about school safety, about collaboration, that we hadn’t thought about, and some ways to secure our facilities that we didn’t even think were possible, and not turn our schools into prisons.
“Our students, our faculty, everybody that comes to our building — they’ve never been safer and we appreciate that.”
Young said Nichols once came to his home to talk about an event that had occurred. “I think we could have done that better,” Young recalled Nichols as telling him. “I just want to come face-to-face and tell you that we’re going to do better in the future.
“I was impressed that he came over to ensure that our working relationship was correct and that we were going to get better. That says a lot about that guy, and that’s what I saw the entire time he was here.”
Erasing an imaginary line
Sheriff Vance Hill referred to the construction of the Law Enforcement Center 17 years ago which houses the police department and sheriff’s office.
In previous years, Hill said, there had been “an imaginary line down the center of the law enforcement center that agencies didn’t cross. It wasn’t necessarily with the troops, it was with the administration.”
Hill said one of his goals when he became sheriff was to “get rid of that imaginary wall.”
Nichols not only helped him do it but took the lead, Hill said.
“We got it done together. Now we’re doing so many great things within our two agencies, and it wouldn’t have been possible without you,” Hill said, addressing Nichols.
‘We were not let down’
Early Police Chief David Mercer said law enforcement officials had heard of Nichols before he was hired as Brownwood police chief. He said they’d heard about the training Nichols could bring through his former agency, the San Marcos-based Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training.
“We were all excited, and man, we were not let down,” Mercer said. “You brought some good training. You brought good memories to all of us. The cooperation between agencies was over the top, and that was because of you.”
Officer Fred Bastardo, president of the Brownwood Municipal Police Association, said he’d been part of the interview team when Nichols was hired. “The team wanted someone that would give the department a sense of direction, challenge us and then allow us to do our missions,” Bastardo said.
“If I asked everyone at the department ‘are we in a better place as a department than when Chief Nichols first started with us,’ the answer, I know, would be an overwhelming ‘yes.’”
Addressing Nichols, Bastardo continued, “we’re grateful that you were able to accept the position of chief. You did so with dignity and humility. We’ll stay the course.”
Assistant Police Chief James Fuller said Nichols “made this department one department. He did a lot of great work. He’s a friend.”
‘Living out your calling’
Crawford, the last to speak, said the reception’s crowd made it seem that “we are celebrating the retirement of a chief who has been in Brownwood for 10 years, and the reason for that is, Chief Nichols has woven himself into the fabric of the community in such a genuine way. It really feels like he has been with us for more than three years.”
Crawford said her notes from Nichols’ May 2016 interview for the police chief’s job show that Nichols stressed the attributes of partnership, training and leadership.
“You delivered,” Crawford said.
The city manager said she saw Nichols interact “with anyone from any walk of life. He definitely had a way of leveling himself. He made those he spoke with feel comfortable, feel important and feel heard.”
Crawford concluded by reading a Bible verse which includes the words “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.
“Thank you, Terry, for living out you calling. We send you with our blessings and our gratitude to Seguin. Thank you for being a friend to Brownwood and a friend to me.”
Nichols, the last person to the microphone, said, “Our time here in Brownwood — the best word I can describe is ‘precious.’”
Nichols said the mayor and Brownwood City Council support the police department and “they have our back.” Nichols said Crawford “had the courage to give me a chance and lead the men and women of this department.
“We live in such a great community and I hope you all recognize what you have. You’re in great hands.”