George Ake knew at 18 that he wanted a life centered on public service.
Upon graduating from high school in 1963, Ake secured a job as a clerk with the N.C. Highway Patrol, embarking on a 35-year career with the state.
He quickly became a state trooper, rising to the rank of major. During those years, he faced gunfire, evacuated coastal communities during hurricanes and once even had to stop a train. But Ake was not so much an adrenaline junkie as someone who cherished making human connections.
As he rose through the ranks, his family said, he cared most about keeping his colleagues safe, and making sure their needs were met. It was a mission he continued in his work as an independent contractor with national justice organizations after retiring from the patrol.
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Ake, 69, died last month after a battle with acute leukemia.
Never gave up
It was a diagnosis he was able to accept, and yet disregard in many ways. Just a few weeks before his death – after he’d been sent home on hospice care – he scheduled workouts with a personal trainer. He hoped that if he could get just a little bit stronger, he’d be a candidate for a clinical trial at Duke.
“He just wasn’t going to accept that there was going to be an end to all this,” said Ann Ake, his wife of 45 years.
Ake was born in Fayetteville. When he was just 7 years old, his father died from tuberculosis. Ake was later adopted by his stepfather, with whom he was quite close. It was a working class upbringing, his stepfather a rural letter carrier. The loving, blended family welcomed two younger sisters for Ake, one of whom was adopted.
He met Ann Ake on a blind date in 1969, and they were married five months later.
The Akes had one son, Tripp Ake, and moved around the state as Ake’s career bloomed.
After graduating from the Southern Police University in Louisville, Ky., Ake returned home determined that North Carolina should have a similar program and worked with N.C. State to start the Administrative Officers Management Program. Since 1989, 1,896 law enforcement managers from more than 130 different agencies have graduated from the program.
“Maj. George Ake will be remembered as a compassionate and visionary leader,” Highway Patrol Col. Bill Grey said. “His efforts not only made the Patrol better, but also law enforcement in general.”
Ake earned bachelor and master degrees while working full time, and the family settled in Raleigh in 1986 after he completed a training school in Garner.
His family said Ake was an encouraging force for the patrol, interested in listening to the needs of his troopers and in advocating for them at the state level. He pushed for investing in newer technology, and was helpful in pursuing grants.
He also was often the first person a trooper called after a traumatic incident.
“Dad really believed in helping officers who were experiencing stress,” Tripp Ake said. “He really cared about them.”
Ake played by the rules. Once, after his wife was at fault for a fender bender, he declined a fellow officer’s offer to not write her a ticket – even though it meant she’d have to attend a driving school for the infraction.
“He didn’t want to abuse the position,” Tripp Ake said.
After retiring from the Highway Patrol, Ake worked as a consultant for the National Institute of Justice, where he worked to improve communications at the national level. It was there he began working with the International Justice and Public Safety Network, a nonprofit known as Nlets that seeks to improve communication between law enforcement agencies. In 2013, he was hired as a consultant. One of his more recent projects involved the sharing of drivers license photos between states.
Ake was all about communication and efficiency, said Steve Correll, Nlets executive director.
“Those are the types of projects he wanted to be able to do, to accelerate them,” Correll said. “He is certainly going to be missed in our community. He was always positive, and he was such a Southern gentleman, too.”
“Daggum” was about the closest Ake ever came to cursing.
When he wasn’t working to improve justice practices, Ake was keen on spending as much time with his family, as he could.
Ake had a special car made for his granddaughters, “the loves of his life.” It was a child-sized patrol car, complete with the same tag that had once adorned his own. The family understood that Abigail and Violet could get him to do just about anything. That was just fine by him.
George Simpson Ake Jr.
Born: June 22, 1945, in Fayetteville.
Family: Married Ann Ake in 1970; one child, son George “Tripp” Ake III; two granddaughters.
Education: bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 1980 from Guilford College; masters in public administration from N.C. State in 1996.
Career: Joins the N.C. Highway Patrol in 1963, retiring as major in 1999. Works as a contractor for the National Institute of Justice, and in 2013 with the International Justice and Public Safety Network.
Died: April 8 in Raleigh.