By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
Mountain Brook city officials, community members and school system representatives gathered under a tent on the Henley Park Event Lawn at the Birmingham Zoo on April 27 for the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Luncheon.
At the event, the chamber recognized its new president, Ricky Bromberg, who will take over the position previously held by Tonya Jones. In addition, Mountain Brook City Schools’ superintendent recognized graduating members of Mountain Brook High School’s Leadership Mountain Brook program.
The highlight of the program was the recognition of the recipients of the city’s three highest annual awards. Former Mountain Brook Mayor Terry Oden earned the Jemison Visionary Award, and Detective Drew Moore was named Mountain Brook’s Employee of the Year. The O’Neal Library presented its Tynes Award to lifelong supporter Penny Page.
According to library board President Susan Elliott, the award is annually “presented to honor a patron who has gone above and beyond for the good of the O’Neal Library.
Page’s grandparents, Elizabeth and Kirkman O’Neal, gave the seed money needed for the library, built in 1965.
“If my grandparents could see the library today, rebuilt in 2001, with all that takes place there, they would be quite impressed,” Page said. “I remember visiting the library as a little girl with my grandparents and parents and picking out a book. I’m now taking my grandchildren to story time and picking out a book, experiencing the great circle of life.”
Page has volunteered at the library in a variety of capacities, through her work with the Junior Women’s Committee of 100, the Junior League of Birmingham and by serving on the library’s board for 12 years, including a stint as president from 2018 to 2019.
“One of the bullet points under the library’s mission statement on their website is to encourage a love of reading and learning in our young people,” Page said. “Aren’t we fortunate to live in a community which values so highly both education and reading.”
“I’m most honored and flattered and humbled to be the recipient of the Jemison Award,” Oden said. “This, I guess, could be considered the Congressional Medal of Honor for Mountain Brook.”
The award is presented annually to someone who has gone above and beyond to help the city. Oden said he recalls when the award was conceived and never imagined he would ever receive it.
Nevertheless, presenter Tonya Jones recounted the work Oden did to champion the city’s success while serving on the city’s planning commission, the City Council and in five terms as Mountain Brook’s mayor.
Oden grew up in the East Lake neighborhood and graduated from Woodlawn High School. He left Birmingham to attend college at Auburn University, breaking away to work in oil fields in New Mexico. He then joined the U.S. Army and was stationed overseas in Japan for three years.
When he returned stateside, he was able to graduate from Auburn and went on to begin his career in the U.S. Secret Service.
He was first detailed with the Kennedy family and, subsequently, the family of Lyndon B. Johnson.
“Throughout his various assignments with the Secret Service, he helped move Jackie Kennedy from D.C. following JFK’s assassination,” Jones said. “He attended Lucy Johnson’s honeymoon and attended George Wallace’s bedside after he was shot.”
Oden cultivated a worldly knowledge through his experiences with the Secret Service, as did his family, including his wife, Sandra, and his daughters, Christie and Mary Elliott.
The Odens have lived in Atlanta; New York; Washington D.C.; Austin, Texas; Birmingham; Montgomery; Kansas City; and San Francisco. In Paris, Oden served as special agent in charge of international operations and attaché.
“Knowing it was time for his family to set roots, he retired from the Secret Service in 1988 and transitioned to senior vice president of corporate security for AmSouth Bank, where he worked for 10 years before starting his own security consulting firm,” Jones said.
When Oden and his family settled down in Mountain Brook, they were drawn in by its Mayberry feel. It was that feeling that incited Oden’s desire to take on a public service role in the community.
He served on the city’s planning commission for 10 years before becoming a member of the City Council in 1992.
He then took on the role of mayor, first running unopposed in 1996 and continuing to hold the position for 20 years.
Milestones during his tenure as mayor included hiring City Manager Sam Gaston, overseeing the construction of the new City Hall building, the beginnings of the Lane Parke development and the construction of the Grand Bohemian Hotel.
A story that is memorable to Oden is what he refers to as “the untold story of the zoo.”
“It was back in the year of 1998 and a Shades Valley property was fallow on the land,” Oden recounted with much dramatization. “And the wolves were circling and licking their chops. Twenty-one prime acres in a prime spot.”
That fallow land was the former site of Shades Valley High School off of Lane Parke, and Oden had heard tell around town that a “big wolf” was looking to buy the lot and build a big box store, likely a K-Mart.
“Being the perceptive person that I was, I realized that it would be an economic disaster for Mountain Brook Village and an aesthetic disaster to the whole area,” Oden said.
He met with the potential buyers, who didn’t feel the need to let him in on their plans should they obtain the property. It was enough to send Oden on a mission to buy the property and build something that would be of better use for not just the Mountain Brook community, but the entire Greater Birmingham area.
He met with the mayor of Homewood, then Barry McCulley, and the Jefferson County commissioner, then Gary White, and sold them on a plan to combine their funds and purchase the land to be leased by the Birmingham Zoo.
The zoo was in dire straits. It was run-down, under-funded, and many believed it would stand a chance of recovering and succeeding if it went private.
While the city of Birmingham and then-Mayor Richard Arrington Jr. were hesitant to provide funds to purchase the property, Oden was able to work with them to make the zoo a private entity to secure the deal.
According to Mountain Brook Police Chief Ted Cook, Detective Drew Moore has spent his mere nine years with the Mountain Brook Police Department building a record of excellence.
“Very early on in his career, we saw what value he brought to the department,” Cook said. “So much so that after serving on patrol for only 4½ years, we signed him to the detective division.”
Cook said it might have been the fastest journey from patrol to investigation in the department’s history.
After showcasing excellence in his work as a detective, Moore was assigned to the U.S. Secret Service Financial Crimes Task Force in November 2017.
“Through the experience he gained while assigned to the Secret Service task force, he provided the Mountain Brook police department with information and access to resources rarely made available to municipalities the size of Mountain Brook,” Cook said.
The year 2020 was a big one for Moore. He was involved in a number of high-profile cases, some on the frontlines and others behind the scenes.
Cook noted that Moore’s forensic analysis of electronic devices helped uncover vital information in the case of the late Megan Montgomery’s murder in December 2019. The evidence allowed Montgomery’s family to recently agree to a plea agreement and avoid the further pain of going to trial.
In June, Moore’s efforts during a theft investigation of a Mountain Brook business resulted in the recovery of more than $280,000 in stolen funds.
Cook concluded by recounting a lesser-known story – Moore’s involvement in helping find the two people who kidnapped businessman Elton B. Stephens Jr. in September.
Though he was off duty at the time and the case was outside of the city’s jurisdiction, Cook said Moore answered the call when asked to help with federal and local agencies’ investigation efforts.
“In the news on that case, you never saw the Mountain Brook Police Department,” Cook said. “That’s kind of the way we like things.”
Moore obtained the victim’s cell phone and was able to download vital information, including pinpointing where the victim had been taken by his captors.
“The FBI agent standing around said, ‘You can do that?’” Cook recounted. Moore went on to obtain video footage of the suspects and discovered that the victim had an app that monitored his sleep apnea condition. After retrieving data from the app, Moore discovered recordings of the suspects committing the kidnapping.
“He tracked down and recovered most of the money, if not all of the money that was delivered so that the victim could be released from that suspect,” Cook added.
Event emcee Jack Royer, an anchor with CBS, noted that he reported extensively on the case but had not heard of Mountain Brook’s involvement in the investigation efforts.