This scriptural truism is very appropriate this week as we mourn the death of Wayne Bird. We laid him to rest in a simple pine box (as he requested) early last Monday morning in a little community in Central Florida, just off Sunshine State Parkway. A number of his extended family along with his wife, Colleen, daughter, sons, their families, and a few close friends attended this private ceremony. A public service was held later that morning. His brother, the Rev. Doug Bird, spoke at both services.
Just over a month ago, Wayne was exercising and thought he had pulled a muscle. When the pain continued for a few days, he went to his doctor. The test ordered by the doctor revealed Wayne had melanoma cancer that had already spread to his liver and bone structure. The pain quickly became excruciating. Just two weeks before his death, his son-in-law, Tom Johnson, along with Wayne’s two grown grandsons, took Wayne to their house to spend his last few days with his close family.
I met Wayne over 20 years ago when he was called in by the then-sheriff to do some drug and murder investigations for our office.
Two weeks before I was elected sheriff, and after considering a number of options, I called Wayne and asked him to be my chief deputy, if I was elected.
I chose Wayne because of his vast experience and education. I chose him because of his integrity and bravery. He had investigated some high profile people. These corrupt individuals tried to buy him off with offers of promotion and other enticements. But Wayne didn’t compromise. When that failed to work for these power-wielding crooks, they began a very public campaign to discredit Wayne, but he still didn’t budge.
A number of the people who were behind these efforts to smear Wayne’s good name ended up in federal prison. That kind of tells you the character of his enemies.
Wayne was an integral part of my administrative team that I put together to serve Bradley County. Even though he was from “out of town,” his knowledge of Cleveland and Bradley County covered several decades. (He worked here and went to graduate school here in the late 1970s, and later worked at the Sheriff’s Office in the early 1990s). He brought with him decades of invaluable training and experience as a patrolman, detective and administrator.
He also worked undercover in conjunction with local, state and federal agencies in investigating drug cartels and human traffickers. He freely shared his expertise and knowledge.
We have had many discussions about policies and the best ways to deploy our deputies. We had spoken often how best to train, develop and encourage our leadership to serve Bradley County now and for the future.
Wayne was a very strong individual who loved God, his family and friends. He had a quiet strength. Wayne was a real friend to his friends. He had a servant’s heart as he went about his duties as a deputy sheriff. He was a generous soul who would give his last dollar to those he thought needed it more. Every Sunday for the last 3 ½ years, he worked with his brother Doug and others to cook for and serve 150-200 people.
Wayne let his yea be yea, and nay meant nay. He lived by a strict code of conduct, but showed grace to those who didn’t.
I could not have chosen a better chief deputy. Wayne served well the Sheriff’s Office, you (the people of Bradley County) and me.
Chief Bird made many friends with law-enforcement people across the state and with federal agencies as well.
We have said goodbye to Wayne Bird. I salute him for his life’s work and his commitment to the cause of Christ. I will pray for Colleen,their children and grandchildren.
We shall meet again some bright tomorrow.