Maj. Willie Woolfolk, Ph.D., forged lasting connections with the community during his career with the Mercer Police Department. On Jan. 31, he will retire after 40 years of service, the majority of his time on the Atlanta campus.
Dr. Woolfolk, assistant chief of Mercer Police and a Triple Bear, spent his first four years working on the Macon campus and has been on the Atlanta campus since then.
After being honorably discharged as a security specialist in the U.S. Air Force, Dr. Woolfolk returned to his hometown of Macon and began looking for jobs in the security field. Mercer’s tuition benefit for employees led him to join the University’s police department, since he wished to continue the business studies he had started prior to the Air Force.
“My goal was to finish my undergrad degree, move to Atlanta and go to work for corporate America. But God had a different plan,” he said. “The rest, as they say, is history.”
Dr. Woolfolk started as a private on the Macon campus and worked his way up to the ranks of corporal and sergeant. He became lieutenant in 1987 when he accepted a position on the Atlanta campus. He was later promoted to major, associate director and finally assistant chief of Mercer Police.
All the while, he continued working to further his education. After he got off work, he would walk across campus to attend classes. He completed his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1993, a Master of Business Administration in 1995 and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership in 2013. His doctoral dissertation focused on police and community partnerships and was titled “Indicators of Faculty and Staff Perception of Campus Safety: A Case Study.”
For seven years, he taught business management, marketing and macroeconomics in the School of Business and organizational leadership courses in the College of Professional Advancement as an adjunct professor, in addition to his Mercer Police work. Dr. Woolfolk said he loved teaching and was proud of the educational achievements that led him to that role.
Dr. Woolfolk developed a nickname early on in his Mercer Police career that set the tone for his tenure and inspired his work. Students began calling him “Officer Friendly,” a character in a community relations campaign that introduced children to police.
“I thought they were making fun of me, but it was really a term of endearment,” he said. “That is where my passion began for community and police partnership. In order for us to be safe, there has to be a connection. Community must feel that police are approachable, fair in their treatment of all people, and professional.”
The people, connections and relationships led Dr. Woolfolk to continue his work at Mercer for four decades.
“For me, that student engagement piece — to see them, encourage them and watch them walk across that stage and go on to lead successful lives — that does it for me,” said Dr. Woolfolk. He has often shared his educational journey with others to help them see that they can do it too.
He said the biggest reward of his work has been when students come back to thank him. He recalled a young man who had potential but needed some encouragement. Dr. Woolfolk gave the student a job as an overnight dispatcher, which helped keep him on track academically and financially. That student is now a successful pharmacist.
“He said that helped him to make his mark on the world,” Dr. Woolfolk said. “For him to come back to say thank you, I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel.”
As for his retirement, Dr. Woolfolk said he looks forward to spending time with his two sons, both of whom graduated from Mercer, and his three grandchildren.
“I’m going to live. This job, God knows it’s been rewarding and enriching, but it has been demanding on my personal life,” he said. “I’m looking forward to life and what God has for me in this next chapter of my life. I’m open to what’s out there.”