There’s a whole lot more under that tilted-down campaign hat than a Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) trooper named Clint McKissack. A whole lot more.
- He’s a history buff, with a degree in history from the University of Southern Mississippi.
- He’s been part of hundreds of Civil War reenactments.
- He’s a 3rd degree Black Belt.
- He’s been in two movies as an extra – “Jonah Hex” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”
- He’s a cancer survivor from the age of 15.
- He calls his work “an environment of constant danger.”
McKissack, 36, hails from the Mississippi “metropolis” of Moselle, population 3,500. Moselle is an unincorporated community in southern Jones County located along U.S. Route 11, between Eastabuchie and Laurel – or somewhere thereabouts.
“There’s not much there,” the trooper says. “But it was home for me, and my country upbringing on my grandfather’s cattle farm and his pecan orchards was amazing. Taught me how to work hard.”
He graduated from Jones County High in 2001 after missing his sophomore year due to cancer – Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After the diagnosis and with little knowledge of cancer, McKissack says candidly: “I thought I was going to die. But today I’m still cancer-free.” He dropped 50 pounds during his chemo and radiation treatments and does not recall much about Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1998. He regained the weight and played nose guard and center on the football team in his junior and senior years.
McKissack has been a trooper for just more than a year but reaps high praise from his supervisor, Lt. Eric Miller.
“He is an impressive young man. He’s already made a significant impact for us,” Miller says. “He has a very diverse skill set and is a well-rounded trooper. He has advanced investigative skills, and he has a very contagious personality and attitude. He’s highly driven and is going to make us a great trooper.”
His law enforcement career began in Jones County after college. He thought he was going to be a history teacher but instead took a job as a corrections officer and then was a deputy sheriff for four years. And he loved it. Then he and his wife Christy moved to East Tennessee in 2016. They had fallen in love with this area because his grandparents owned a cabin in Wears Valley that they enjoyed on several visits.
After their move, his first job here was as a security police officer at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. McKissack was a sergeant there when he applied to the THP and survived the interviews and tests. He began at the THP Academy in Nashville on July 29, 2018, and graduated on Dec.14, 2018. He began his patrol work in January 2019.
OK, so why the THP? “I liked what the THP stands for, the qualities this agency has and its motto really struck me – ‘Be Servants Not Lords.’ THP stresses courtesy, integrity, perseverance, justice, self-control and spirit, and all of those things really matter to me,” he said. “I kept hearing everyone talk about THP and how professional the troopers are. That got me interested.”
His patrol areas are Knox and Union counties, but most of his time is spent in Knox County. The trooper says he does catch a number of speeders. His highest was a guy on I-40 west at Cedar Buff going 97 and a woman on I-75 he clocked at 90. In addition to the speeding he’s watching for impaired drivers and distracted drivers, and he also pulls over a lot of big rigs for speeding.
And he does all he can to assist drivers, even changing a tire for them if need be. When he sees a car stopped on the side of a road, he stops to make sure all is well. He knows even that can be risky, mentioning the Florida trooper who was shot to death on I-95 only 11 days ago on Feb. 6.
“Every day I think we all wonder if this will be our last day,” he says. “I’m not immune from thinking about what happened to that trooper. Yes, we’re all scared at times. You have to be hyper-vigilant and quick enough to know what’s happening. You have to have courage, and courage is having fear and doing the work regardless.”
His stress relievers are wife Christy and their young son, who is 2, and the time he spends with his two daughters, 13 and 12, who live in Mississippi with their mother, his first wife.
His Civil War reenactments date back to when he was 12 when his best friend’s mother drove them to Gettysburg for his first reenactment experience. He continues to study history. “I love the history of the Greeks and Romans, the Civil War and World War II,” he says. “It’s all amazing.”
His other stress reliever is “F3,” a national network of free, peer-led workouts for men that encompasses Fitness, Fellowship and Faith. The group meets daily at Lakeshore Park at 5:30 a.m. “It’s a boot camp style workout that’s tough, but the most important parts are the fellowship and faith, at least to me,” he says. “In this job it’s really healthy to have good friends outside of work. After the workout, we circle up and talk and pray. We’re close.”
And he adds this: “I’m never nervous when I come to work. I’m excited. The unknown of what the day brings makes it fascinating work.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service/first responder professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at (865) 659-3562.