By Brian Livingston
In the 35-plus history of the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year awards presented annually by members of the Meridian Exchange Club, there may not have been a more diverse trio of area officers who have been so honored.
There is the young female deputy, Marissa Combs, who through her many obligations with the department and outside the realm of law enforcement, probably touches the lives of more people than any other officer with the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department.
There is the young African-American senior patrol officer with the Meridian Police Department, Patrick Gale, who through his determined efforts and unwavering dedication to serve and protect, saved the life of a child who had been accidentally shot.
And there is the Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper with 27 years of service, Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Boyd, who over the years has been a mentor to not only countless other troopers but to his son who, as the commander of Troop H in Meridian, awarded his father the award.
George Hill, president of the Meridian Exchange Club, said these awards are just a small token of thanks these, and many other officers from all agencies, do for their local communities.
"For more than 30 years we have been recognizing these officers for putting their lives on the line every day for us, the general public," Hill said. "Exchange Clubs all across the nation and beyond hold these award luncheons."
Combs, a Purdue University graduate with majors in Political Science and English, has been with the LCSD for five years working as a patrol officer, a School Resource Officer, and a D.A.R.E. officer. Sheriff Billy Sollie said Combs has been instrumental in creating and maintaining an Instagram page and Facebook page for the department. After hours, Combs volunteers her time to special needs children and veterans.
MPD Chief James Lee said despite his long career in law enforcement he cannot claim to have saved a life the way Gale has done. Honored earlier this month by the City of Meridian for his quick actions in saving the life of a 7-year-old boy, Gale accepted his second award this year for his actions. Gale has been an officer with the MPD since January 2007.
Over the course of his long career with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, Boyd has been a member of several law enforcement organizations, including being a charter member of the Saved by the Belt Club and serving two terms as the Troop H representative of the Mississippi State Troopers Association Board. Boyd has also served as Acting Assistant Inspector for Troop H. His son, Troop H commander Capt. Patrick Boyd, presented his father with the award.
Hill said all of the officers were selected by their respective agencies as the best of the best based on their past performance over the last year.
"This program is designed to honor the men and women who serve as law enforcement officers," Hill said. "We hope this brings people closer to these officers and the type of work they are tasked."
Sollie, a recipient of the award in the 1970s, was grateful there is a civic organization that puts so much work into recognizing the officers.
"I just want to thank the club members for doing this each year," Sollie said. "We don't go out to do this job for awards but it is really nice when other people see the kind of work that you do and want to acknowledge that."
The most touching moment came when Troop H. Commander Capt. Patrick Boyd presented his father, Tracy Boyd, with the award. The two men conducted the traditional, professional handshake of congratulations but then neither could help themselves as they both burst out into big smiles and shared a father-son hug as a round of applause erupted from the members.
"I might outrank him on the job but I will always take orders from him," said the smiling captain about his father. "This was special."