Clarence E. “Mel” Fisher died on May 4, 2021, at the age of 86. He was not a politician, though versed in politics, nor was he a professional athlete or Hollywood elite seeking fame or notoriety. He was the victim of Alzheimer’s Disease, a cruel malady that robbed him of his greatest asset, a beautiful and busy mind. He will be buried in a Missouri State Veteran’s Cemetery, with little fanfare, where other folks of a like mind rest for eternity. Such is the measure of a man we knew simply as “Fisher”, “Col Fisher” or, to his closest advisors, “The Kingfish”. To his many friends he was simply Mel. C. E. Fisher was the most consequential superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol dating back to the early days of the organization when the likes of men named Ginn, Ellis, Casteel and Waggoner were in command. Ultimately, we tend to measure success by the wake a person leaves and Clarence Fisher left a great wake. His tenure was marked by incorruptibility and a keen understanding of the police function from the streets to high command. He was, in fact, a gentleman who enforced the law.
The upper levels of police organizations fairly seethe with political intrigue. This intrigue is both from within and outside the organization. Often superintendents and chiefs are appointed to satisfy the whims of political power brokers, thus yielding a mixed bag of bosses with varying degrees of capability and interest in developing the force. Col. Fisher prevailed in a testy political process and quietly slid into the bosses office where he immediately set to work with an eye to bringing the patrol into the technology age while preserving the tradition that is the cornerstone of it’s success. He assembled a personal staff and began a whirlwind of innovation, correctly anticipating the needs of a progressive state police agency and keeping us ahead of the curve. The Colonel regarded every human asset as critical to the success of the Patrol and respected every employee irrespective of their role. His style can be best described as that of Gen. Omar Bradley, another Missouri alumni. He was a master of his craft, but attributed his success to his field commanders, division directors and employees, never seeking personal recognition or credit.
The Colonel never lost his zeal for the job. He could be found flagging traffic and setting flares at an accident scene. When we were involved in a manhunt, he was on the frontline, not directing by phone miles away. He and his underboss formed a two man entry team in a search for a police killer in small town America, making entries with guns drawn. (This elicited a friendly chiding by his staff as we had seen both of them on the range and determined the killer was in little danger of being shot!) He was the darling of the Jefferson City newspaper after personally and aggressively removing a heckler from a legislative gallery during a hearing. He never forgot that he was a police officer under the eagles of command. His car to car call at 1AM has sent more than one officer scrambling to straighten up his car before meeting the boss. He could be found in the field, at odd hours, contacting a road officer for coffee and conversation. No idle chat here, he would ask hard questions about needs and equipment at the service level. On many occasions, he would call a road officer, meet him and climb in the officer’s car for an hour or two, patrolling the zone. He worked incessantly to memorize the family data of officers in the field, often stunning them with his knowledge about their children and events. He also expected his field commanders to be active in the troop area. Leadership, to him, meant getting off your butts and hitting the roads. He was a strong advocate for training, in particular training centering around the use of force and current case law. He championed excellence.
This is a blog, not a manuscript, so there is simply not enough room to list his many priorities for the Patrol. From arming our officers with automatic pistols to a new professional standards division he brought us into the modern age of policing. We underwent a detailed review by a nationally recognized police accreditation organization which changed innumerable policies and procedures for the department. His efforts in aggressively pursuing recruiting, to include minorities and protected class applicants was the genesis of todays continuing efforts. Automated fingerprint identification system involvement and improved radio communication reflect his touch. A check with the Research and Development commander under his watch, revealed in excess of 51 significant enhancements to the effectiveness of the Patrol as a result of the Colonel’s concern for operational efficiency and excellence. Staff studies were a routine fact of life for the research cadre.
A final note. Col. Fisher was a non confrontational boss. When the Patrol was threatened, he was masterful in the selection of a staff member to handle the problem on a level the antagonist demanded. He was an ambassador for the Patrol, earning the respect and appreciation of other law enforcement agencies and government entities at every level. He sought no recognition when the patrol was successfully involved in solving sticky problems. He was a problem solver, not a news hound. He was deft in walking the line between policing and the ever encroaching political interference that is threatening policing today as never before. During his watch, every piece of police oriented legislation that was considered in our legislature, involved his consult. The Colonel was a mainstay at the Capital, protecting the interests of the Patrol and policing in general. The Patrol was never in better hands.
I know these things, because I was privileged to be a field commander under his watch before becoming a member of his command staff. Our rare disagreements are a matter of record, but he was never threatened by and welcomed a differing opinion. He listened, made a decision and we moved on. Those were the best years of my career, courtesy of a unique, selfless and unparalleled Colonel, a trooper’s Colonel.
Colonel Fisher, you made the Patrol a better police organization, and by extension, the State of Missouri a better place to live. God has restored your amazing intellect and, by now, you are enjoying the eternal peace you richly deserve.
Thank you, sir. It was a hell of a ride….
To my readers, have a great weekend.