Carolina charm accents career of public service
Thompson formerly worked for FBI, U.S. Capitol police before joining liquor board here as inspector
On a recent weekday afternoon, Garland Thompson arrived at a northern St. Mary’s restaurant with a satchel of the county’s alcohol rules and regulations, along with his Southern charm, a badge hanging from a chain around his neck and his customary cowboy hat on his head.
“I’m glad I came today,” Thompson said to Helen Uhler as he gave the cafe owner tips on steering clear of infractions, and commended her on having more than the required signs posted on the wall behind her bar, including one she voluntarily put up that states intoxicated people won’t be served.
“You’re one of the only people who
have that sign,” he said. “That’s good.”
Thompson, 67, is in his seventh year working as the inspector for the St. Mary’s Alcohol Beverage Board, a job he took following a career with the U.S. Capitol Police, where his poetic admonitions to pedestrians drew considerable attention. Before that, he pursued an opportunity to work for the FBI in his native state of North Carolina.
Thompson was born in the city of Burlington, where his delivery began on a Halloween night but continued into the next morning, when “it became All Saints Day,” he said at the board’s office in Leonardtown. After
completing high school, his request to join the federal law enforcement agency was made directly to its legendary director.
“I had wrote to J. Edgar Hoover for a job,” he said. “A lot of the school reports I did were about the FBI … all these fantastic heroes fighting crime.”
Hoover wrote back “a personal letter,” Thompson said, directing him to the bureau’s office in Charlotte, where he was sent back East closer to home to Greensboro. His clerical job as a fingerprint examiner included receiving information on famous people such as Angela Davis, Patricia Hearst and Mama Cass Elliot, but “I wanted to get out and be in the field somehow.”
The first response to his applications for another
job in police work came from the agency in Washington, and he moved to Maryland to begin more than 34 years of working in and around the building where laws are made, and visitors are both omnipresent and often uninformed.
“I got to be pretty popular on the Hill,” he said, where “I was on the street, as a street policeman, and I would do these sayings [like] ‘Always ask the man in blue, he can tell you what to do.’”
Thompson added, “I watch too much Andy Griffith,” and by the time he left the force in 2009, he had been profiled in Washington news publication articles with titles such as the “Anti-Jaywalking Cop” and “Walk, Don’t Run.”
He also used some of
his leave time to play both a Hessian soldier and British soldier in a PBS mini-series on George Washington, filmed in 1983 in Mount Vernon with a host of stars, and he appeared in a documentary on the capital city called “Heartbeat of the Nation.”
But “9/11 kind of crimped everything,” he said of the 2001 terrorist attacks that permanently scaled back much of the public access to his work area. He recalled the warnings that day that the Capitol was a target, and trying to get people to safety where “from that distance, I could see smoke coming from the Pentagon.”
Thompson, moving from Prince George’s County to Charlotte Hall during his years in Washington, did some work
after his retirement for a couple’s security business in Waldorf and as a substitute teacher, but it was his service as a poll watcher in northern St. Mary’s during an election, alongside the alcohol board’s administrator, that preceded the start of his current occupation in the summer of 2012.
Recalling the “divine intervention” that put Thompson on the beat as inspector, Tamara Hildebrand, the administrator, said that she was thinking one day in her office “that would be a good job for this guy,” moments before he stopped by the county’s elections office across the hall. “No sooner did I say that,” she recalled, “than he walked in the door.”
Thompson said an inspector’s duties are a lot different than police work, with an eye on educating the proprietors of the county’s alcohol outlets.
“I try to work with the licensees,” he said. “They realize the importance of this job.”
At Helen’s Cafe & Catering in Charlotte Hall, as Thompson examined its alcohol display and documents, Uhler said, “I don’t worry so much. I look at the liquor board as they’re the ones who keep you out of trouble, if you work with them.”
And as for Thompson’s headwear, he said that follows a doctor’s advice on how to reduce the perspiration on his brow, so it won’t get too cool and cause him trouble.
“The hat draws attention,” he said. “I’ve been wearing Western hats for years.”
Garland Thompson discusses St. Mary’s alcohol rules and regulations with Helen Uhler, owner of Helen’s Cafe & Catering in Charlotte Hall.