“… Oh, the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say … this is where the cowboy rides away.” – George Strait
On December 31, 2023, Mike Wilson’s professional life for the past 26 years ends and the next chapter begins. He’s not the cowboy superstar Strait sings about in his great song “The Cowboy Rides Away.” But he is a hero and has been a big part of the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s (THP) East Tennessee cadre since 1997.
This 54-year-old native of Campbell County heads back to his Jacksboro farm in retirement as 2023 draws to a close. He joins another ex-THP trooper there – his father, Sam, now 76, whose home with his wife of 58 years, Barbara, sits on property just behind and adjacent to his son’s farm.
Together this family was part of the THP family for 56 years.
And Wilson’s not sure if the family legacy ends at 56 years. He and wife Susan have a daughter, Laura. She is 21, a senior at the University of Tennessee studying for a degree in criminal justice/sociology. “We’re not sure what direction she will take,” he says. “She’s a tiny thing and I’ve told her she’s too small for the THP. Maybe TBI. But you never know.”
Here are a few “sure things” he’ll be doing come 2024:
- Dedicating more time to his church family and their needs.
- Dedicating more time to his wife and daughter.
- Trying to provide more support and help to his parents and in-laws. His mother-in-law’s home fronts his property.
- Increasing Norris Lake time with his 18½-foot Ranger fishing boat will with his father and daughter along.
- Trying for trout on the Clinch River below Norris Dam.
- Hunting deer and turkey with his father.
- Rehearsing with the Pine Ridge Baptist Church choir in Anderson County and perhaps singing more solos. Susan and Laura are also in the choir.
For the past five years, Wilson has been working as part of the Tennessee Supreme Court detail in downtown Knoxville in a security role protecting 60 state employees while assisting the public that passes through at the Supreme Court. “I went from a lot of excitement on patrol to no excitement,” he says. “I guess it’s a THP going-away present. I have missed patrol but I’ve really enjoyed my time with the judges and staff here and with the public.”
Wilson is known beyond the boundaries of THP’s District 1. In July 2000 he was selected as the Tennessee Trooper of the Year by the THP, the Tennessee Law Enforcement Officers Association (TLEOA) and Smith &Wesson Inc. His selection, in part, revolved around his skill and professionalism at the scene of an accident on I-75 south early in 2000.
“Several vehicles were involved and a large commercial truck,” he recalled. “The truck was hanging over a median bridge above a road. I climbed in and the driver was not breathing. Two others helped me get him and laid him down. I did CPR on this man for five minutes, maybe a little more, and finally brought him back and he survived.”
That was a big save, he says, but adds this: “I’ve had two or three others die in my hands doing CPR. Sometimes it’s not enough.”
The other aspects of the award were explained by the TLEOA: “He also is honored for his heroism and unwavering devotion to duties. As he performed the duties of a state trooper he was recognized as a successful criminal enforcement officer due to the high volume of criminal and felony arrests he made.”
Much of his work focused on those who use and sell drugs. He was part of the THP Interdiction Team that worked throughout Tennessee. He minces no words about this issue. “I have absolutely no compassion for drug dealers and those who destroy so many lives, getting people, especially young people, hooked on drugs. These people destroy lives and families and could care less. That’s what drove me to stop these people from being addicted and to get the dealers and criminals off the road.”
There’s more in his toolbox of skills. He is certified as a K-9 officer in narcotics, tracking, explosives and K-9 patrol. He spent 16 years with the dogs. And those canines all ended up as Wilson family pets. He is also certified in commercial vehicle enforcement at levels 1, 2 and 3, and he has multiple certifications in criminal interdiction, criminal investigation and terrorism training.
He was lucky, he says, that he never had to fire his weapon. “I was close a few times to firing and talked a few guys into putting their guns down. Thankfully.”
About 15 years ago was the one time he feared for his life. After stopping a man he was pursuing on U.S. Highway 116, he was in the process of arresting him and found a .38-caliber pistol. That’s when the fight started.
“The suspect was trying to overtake me as I was conducting the arrest and a hand-to-hand fight started that could have gone either way. I had no back-up there. Then out of the blue a citizen pulled up and jumped in the car and helped me, maybe saved my life. When I got the cuffs on the guy I turned to thank this man and he was gone. Never got to say thanks. I’m truly forever thankful. I guess you could say he was God sent.”
Wilson’s boss is THP’s District 1 Commander Capt. Stacey Heatherly, and her heartfelt words about this trooper are special: “The first thing I can say for sure about Trooper Mike Wilson is he is a God-fearing man who loves and adores his family. Trooper Wilson is consistent and steady, with a dedication to the THP that is old-school and career-oriented in his 26 years with the department.”
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name or text him at 865-659-3562.