A Salute to Fred Rice, Jr.

01/31/2011 03:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fred Rice Jr. was a gentleman, a scholar and a police officer. The first African American to serve as the Superintendent of Chicago's Police Department, he was appointed in 1983 by the late Mayor Harold Washington and retired from the top spot in 1987.

For outstanding service in his military career, which landed him in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952, Fred was awarded two battle stars, a combat infantry badge and a special commendation from the government of Korea.

He became a Chicago Park District policeman in 1955 and joined the Chicago Police Department in l959 when those two departments merged. Fred rose to the top spot by climbing through the ranks from a patrolman to detective to sergeant to lieutenant to captain to commander to deputy chief and then chief of patrol.

He was an old fashioned guy who followed the rules, worked hard, passed the tests, and was the best at what he did. He performed and out-performed. Always cheerful, yet serious, he was the consummate professional.

After retiring as Chicago's Top Cop, Rice served as an adjunct professor of criminal justice at the University of Illinois from 1990 to 2001, when he became ill. His own educational background included earning bachelor's and master's degrees from Roosevelt University in public administration, and he graduated from the FBI Executive Institute in Quantico, Virginia.

During his University of Illinois tenure, Rice traveled abroad, lecturing and teaching best practices of law enforcement in such disparate areas as Cyprus, China, Thailand, England, Saudi Arabia, Cairo, Egypt, where he lived for three months, and Havana, Cuba, where he researched local police customs.

There were many firsts in Fred's life and he was proud of each and every one. But he was also concerned about seconds and thirds. He went through many challenges as Chicago's first African American police chief -- much of it stereotypical and steeped in foolish racial ignorance. But he never let it get to him.

If you broke the law you were in trouble because Rice followed the rules strictly. He wanted to be followed, and he promoted from within, believing in stair-stepping promotion. He was truly proud of his men and it showed.

A Knack For Mentoring
As I sat at his funeral on January 14 in Holy Name Cathedral and looked around the room, I realized the impact of this man. There were many government workers represented, many of whom he personally groomed and nurtured for top spots.

Fred had a real skill for identifying bureaucratic talent, and he mentored exceptionally well. It didn't matter if you were or were not a policeman. It didn't matter whether you were male or female. It didn't matter whether you were Black or White.

If he saw your talent, he advised. And his advice was simple: Get your education. Perform your job well. Out-perform if you can. Follow the leader well. Follow the rules, after your learn them. Stair-step your way to the next level. Keep it up and one day you might be at the top of the organization.

Fred knew organized leadership. His advice was well given and well taken. He held a lot of hands -- sometimes that hand was felt, and sometimes it was invisible. Sometimes he gave a recommendation, and sometimes he gently pushed.

He was forceful and he was a force, and he opened doors. Always available. I cannot remember one time that I ever called him and he said, I'm busy or in a meeting.

As a founding member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Fred taught networking and believed in the power of organizing. A wonderful man, most of all he led by example. He taught a generation about being professional and about the dynamics of institutionalized racism. He taught us how to conquer.

Fred saw many of his people head organizations, and some will follow in his footsteps, but his greatness must be realized as his very own. He had a tough job and he did the hell out of it.

Fred Rice Jr. was a scholar, a gentlemen, a professional, and most of all a policeman. Salute!