As an answer to the growing population at the time, the late Doug Ellis officially formed the Richmond Hill Police Department on Oct. 18, 1977 when he hired a police chief and one officer.
That first formation of the RHPD used office space in city hall and police cars purchased from Port Wentworth.
Like his father before before him, Pringle Ellis - who worked with Henry Ford - Doug Ellis was an integral part of the city of Richmond Hill in the early days, making many strides to lay the foundation of what you see today.
This past Tuesday evening, on what would have been his 83rd birthday, the current RHPD, at the suggestion of Chief Billy Reynolds, held a dedication ceremony in which they named the department after Ellis.
Ellis was mayor when Reynolds was appointed in 1983 and considers Ellis a mentor and father figure to him.
"I was quite young when I took this position," Reynolds said. "He knew it and still gave me the opportunity. He took me in like one of his own – gave me advice and helped me through the times. I learned a lot from him. This building means a lot to the PD here, and I can’t think of a better way to honor both him and this department than with the commemoration here today."
Doug’s wife Audrey, daughter Kathy and granddaughter Kristin were among the attendees at the ceremony. "I am very proud and honored by this," said daughter Kathy. "So many people haven’t been living here that long, so they really don’t know the history of Richmond Hill and how it all began."
"Back then, his job was a lot more hands on," Ellis continued. "If something went down at 2:00 in the morning, he would get up and go with the police department. As a matter of fact, most people would call daddy first and ask ‘what do I need to do’ (laughs) and he’d tell them they needed to call the police department."
Despite the obstacles, she said her father truly enjoyed his work with the city. "He wouldn’t have traded it for anything," she said. "As the town developed, his job duties changed because he couldn’t keep doing all that on a larger scale."
"I don’t think there’s a more appropriate person it could’ve been named after," said RHPD Captain Mark Long, a 21-year veteran of the force. "He was very pro-police and just an all-around good guy. The police department was his baby."
Long said that the foundation and moral standards that Ellis established for the department are still evident today.
"He wanted us to treat everybody fairly and not bully anyone around," Long said. "He set standards of respect and he practiced them himself. Doug is one of the fairest people that I’ve ever worked for. He spoke very highly of this department to the public and backed us up 100 percent."
Current mayor Richard Davis was a councilman under Mayor Ellis for ten years – and Mayor Tem for 8 of those years. Before reading the proclamation, Davis commented that that Ellis "is looking down on us right now" before leading the gathering into a verse of "Happy Birthday".
"He was a very dear friend of mine, and he was my mentor in so many ways," said Davis. "He was a very good man. His word was his contract – if he told you something, you could take it to the bank. I’m 100 percent in favor of the police department being named after him, and I was very appreciative that Billy Reynolds suggested that we do it as Doug had more to do with creating that department than anyone else."
Prior to the department’s creation, one Sheriff’s deputy was assigned to cover Richmond Hill.
"The creation of the police department unloaded a tremendous burden off of the Sheriff’s Department," said BCSD Lt. David Blige.
Blige recounted how, when a trooper or member of BCSD pulled over someone in the city after hours, they’d actually have to take the offender to the deputy’s house and knock on his door in order to proceed.
Blige fondly recalls Ellis’s kind and respectful nature when dealing with the members of the BCSD. "Doug was an outstanding person. I can’t say a bad thing about him."
One common theme that popped up with each subject that was approached for comments about Ellis was "respect". This was reiterated by long-time County Commissioner Toby Roberts.
"The one thing that stands out the most about Doug Ellis is that he was highly respected by everybody," said Roberts. "He was a natural-born leader in city hall and the community, and he worked very well with the county. He didn’t look for credit. I asked him to appear at a commission meeting to congratulate him on regulating dog deer hunting, and he wouldn’t have it. He said that if the policies he put into place worked for the community - that was thanks enough for him."
"He loved his community," said daughter Kathy. "He was a great historian. A lot of people didn’t know this, but he was a writer. He wrote a lot of articles about the history of Richmond Hill that got included in history books."
The department has grown leaps and bounds since its inception. In 1999, the 10,000 square foot police complex behind city hall was completed - paid for with confiscated drug funds. It is the base for what is now 25 officers and 8 administrative staff members. The new title of the complex is The Douglas T. Ellis Law Enforcement Center.
For an online photo gallery of Ellis, including pictures from the ceremony and archival photos, go to www.bryancountynews.net