The lobby was packed and well-wishers spilled outside. The front doors were opened so people outside could hear the speakers and the swearing in of Patterson.
“Welcome to Ronnie Fest 2010!” Town Manager Tony White said to the cheers of the gathering. “Let me tell you something...had I known Ronnie, I would have gotten the high school auditorium. I had no idea!”
Mayor Pro-Tem Eula McNeill greeted the crowd and recognized honored guests. She, too, was surprised at the turnout.
“It is so rewarding. It [the crowd] tells me that God has done something right, and if He has done something right, there is nothing you and I can do to undo it.”
Mayor John McNeill told the crowd that he abandoned his planned speech when he saw the turnout.
“I had a long list of things I wanted to say, but when you’ve got 350 people here to see a chief sworn in, there is nothing else to say.” McNeill has estimated earlier that about 100 people would show up.
Mayor McNeill acknowleged former Police Chief Lum Edwards, saying Edwards taught Ronnie Patterson “the ropes” with the same integrity as former Police Chief Luther Haggins, one of the honored guests at the swearing-in ceremony.
Robeson County District Court Judge John Carter swore Patterson to his oath of office. Patterson’s wife, Naomi, and his parents, Shirley and Martin Patterson, stood nearby.
Afterward, Naomi Patterson pinned her husband’s new badge to his shirt.
Patterson said his motto as chief is: “This town’s not good enough for anyone until it’s good enough for everyone.”
“I’m looking forward to working back in Red Springs,” Patterson said. “I know there’s been problems going on, but we’re going to work, if I have to work day and night until we solve them.”
Patterson also vowed to be a mentor for children and challenged his coworkers to do the same.
Patterson said his main goal would be to try to clean up drug trafficking and quell violence in the community.
“I’m just humbled and honored to serve the residents of Red Springs,” Patterson said. “I want to make the chief’s job, and not have the chief’s job make me.”
Patterson’s mother, Shirley Patterson, said she thought more than half of the people at the ceremony were related to the new chief. She said family members from as far away as Georgia and Maryland had come for the ceremony.
”We are a close-knit family, and we stick together,” she said. “I am very proud of my son.”
Patterson’s first day on the job was Monday.
When fully staffed, the department has 17 officers and three detectives. McNeill said there are currently 13 officers and two detectives, and that the town is filling the empty positions.