How One Tar Heel Became Guardian of the Hill

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Photo by Briana Brough
Photo by Briana Brough

I try to get out to Franklin Street at least once a week. Often, I am transported back to my time as a UNC undergraduate, a young person trying to find a path, wondering what the world holds and my place in it.

I entered UNC as a freshman in 1986. I had grown up with pictures of Walter Davis, Phil Ford, Mike O’Koren and Rich “Chickie” Yonakor on the walls of my room. Both my older brothers [Bill and Steve Blue] had attended UNC so I never even considered another college. And I secretly hoped that Coach Smith would invite me to walk on to the basketball team since he had seen me play at least a few times at Carolina Basketball School. Well, he never did call.

A major in Radio, Television and Motion Pictures, I particularly enjoyed covering high school football games Friday nights during my senior year as part of my internship at WPTF-TV.

After graduation, I decided not to follow my friends who moved to New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta to pursue broadcasting careers. I just couldn’t imagine leaving Chapel Hill. Instead, I took a job at S.H. Basnight and Sons in Carrboro, selling architectural hardware – things like locks, shower doors and fireplace enclosures – to contractors and architects in the area and along the NC/SC coast. I will be forever grateful that the Basnight family gave me an opportunity. They taught me a great deal about teamwork and customer service.

When I took a second job waiting tables at the University Club in Durham, I made a friend who helped change my life.

Andrew Smith was a track star at North Carolina Central University. He had grown up in Pitt County and was lured to NCCU with a track scholarship. He was so good that he nearly made the U.S. Olympic Team. He was also fast and efficient at the restaurant, and he taught me the ropes. As a friend, he urged me to work up the nerve to flirt with the restaurant hostess and ask for a date. I’m glad I did. Natasha and I have been married for 21 years!

Andrew and I had a lot in common. Neither of us planned to wait tables forever. Often, after our shift, we’d sit in the restaurant bar and talk about the future. When I learned there were job openings at the Chapel Hill Police Department, I told Andrew. We agreed to apply together.

Andrew was hired right away and I had to wait a year or so before I was selected. While I waited, Andrew told me what the job was like, how much he thought I’d enjoy it and not to get discouraged. When I was finally hired, I found out that he was right.

All these years later, Andrew are I are still working together. He is a captain in the Chapel Hill Police Department and I am the Chief of Police, a position I’ve held since December 1, 2010.

I am thankful that this former restaurant waiter and salesman has been able to build a career in the town I love. I will always remember the day I became police chief as the beginning of a new set of responsibilities, demands and opportunities.

When I talk to new employees about what it means to be a police officer, I like to reference Andy Griffith’s portrayal of Sheriff Taylor of Mayberry. Sheriff Taylor treated every person with compassion and respect. Enforcing the law was usually pretty far down on his list of strategies, although he used the law when necessary. He sought human solutions to human problems. If you watch Andy closely, you see his genuine love for Mayberry and its people. He was a guardian. Now, I’m no Andy Taylor, but I do try to emulate that approach when serving the people of Chapel Hill.

CHRIS BLUE grew up in Chapel Hill and graduated from Chapel Hill High School (’86) before attending UNC. Chris and his wife, Natasha, have two daughters (Carter and Lia) and they live in Coker Hills West.

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