New Bedford Police Officer Willie Coates recently retired after a 32-year career. Coates earned the trust, friendship and respect of thousands of public school students since becoming a School Resource Officer in 2001.

With his strong moral character, sense of ethics, compassion and respect for others, he became an integral connection with young people because he understood combat, whether in a student's family life, or having fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Coates knew how to remove the fuse before someone lost their temper and went into a rage.

"I got to really know the kids, especially the ones who came to school from a troubled home life," Coates said.

Coates has been the recipient of a wall full of commendations for everything from bravery to making the community a better place, but those accolades don't tell us anything about the many nights Coates would arrive home after witnessing a calamity. How did he deal with the sadness and hard knocks of bad luck?

"One of my worst days was when a gentleman stabbed himself in front of me," Coates said. "He was depressed, drugged and in a domestic dispute with his spouse over the breakup of their relationship. He told me he just didn't want to live anymore."

How does someone process that when the workday is over? Coates said he had a trusted mentor he could speak with freely about his feelings, especially following something upsetting.

"And be sure to have God Almighty in your life, too," he said.

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The distressing days were far outnumbered by the years of hope and encouragement for which Coates was known.

"Life is short," he said. "Live it out the best you can, and be a good example to others."

Coates said he "had a good career" and said the only reason he became a police officer was because of a bet with his cousin.

"He made a bet with me that I wouldn't take the job if they called and offered it to me," Coates said. "When they called, I accepted the job, and won the bet!"

In his retirement, Coates is planning on taking trips on his motorcycle, such as his recent trips to Mexico and New York's Lake George, riding around the Adirondack Mountains.

The New Bedford community takes its hat off to this honored officer of the peace.

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