He’s the pride of a small town in West Tennessee. And recently he was appointed by Governor Bill Haslam to head the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
“I’m a native of the town of McKenzie, Tennessee,” Colonel Dereck Stewart told News 2.
The town is made up of 5,300 people and Stewart’s father served as a Baptist preacher in the community.
“We grew up in small rural churches, so we knew everyone, and everyone knew us,” he explained. “My values were simply that you do the right thing. My grandmother used to teach us that right won’t wrong anybody, and I remember that now.”
Daisy Dudley, a lifelong member of his father’s church watched Stewart and his two siblings grow up.
“I remember that Dereck was a quiet young man,” she recalled. “Kind of on the funny side, but reserved and quiet.”
As a growing boy, Colonel Stewart had a passion for sports.
“I loved playing baseball. I played baseball my whole life. I enjoyed it. I could play all day and all night,” he said.
Stewart went on to graduate from McKenzie High School in 1973 and played on UT Martin’s baseball team during the spring of 1986.
“My goal, my dream, was to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees, but the Lord saw it a different way,” he told News 2.
That different direction put Stewart on the path to an exemplary 30-year career in law enforcement. Last April, Gov. Haslam appointed him to lead the Tennessee Highway Patrol. He’s the first African American to ever hold the position.
“That’s not why we promoted him. We promoted him because he is the best, most qualified and has the right track record,” Gov. Haslam said.
“He deserves it,” Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew said. “He’s come up through the ranks. He’s very professional.”
Stewart said he is absolutely humbled by his position.
“It has absolutely humbled me. I have over 1,000 people spread out from Memphis to Bristol I am directly responsible for,” he said. “I wake up every day and go to bed every night praying and thinking of them – to ensure they are well-equipped, the proper training to go out and do their jobs.”
Many residents said they are proud of Stewart.
“I am super proud of him. And I think those of us who know him, we can toot our horns that Dereck came from McKenzie, Tennessee. A West Tennessee boy,” Dudley said.
Anne Holt’s Tennessee airs every Wednesday during News 2 at 4. Click here to see past stories.