As a starting pitcher for Golden Eagle baseball, Dave Wilkinson, business ’82, always planned to join the major leagues.
He knew his odds were long but the majors were his only plan. He ended up joining a different kind of major leagues, where he spent more than 20 years.
“Toward the end of my term at Tech I started thinking about a career in law enforcement, and more specifically, a career with the U.S. Secret Service,” Wilkinson said. “My ultimate goal was the president’s detail. It’s considered sort of the ‘major leagues.’”
In a 22-year career, Wilkinson protected President Ronald Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. He supervised Bush’s evacuation from a Florida classroom when the second plane hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. For his supervisory and decisive actions that day, Bush gave Wilkinson the Distinguished Service Award.
Wilkinson began his career with the Secret Service at the young age of 22, when most agents work their way up from police ranks and join when they are older. The former Golden Eagle lucked out because he had an uncle help him get an interview, and because the service was hiring 300 agents that year, rather than the usual 50. Also, the Secret Service likes to hire athletes.
“I was absolutely in awe. It seemed like everybody was the best of the best,” Wilkinson said. “The United States Secret Service is seen as the absolute, most professional, most respected law enforcement agency in the world. If you’re going to be out there, you’re going to do it right.”
Wilkinson was used to doing it right; he was part of a group of baseball players hand selected by coach David Mays to rebuild the program. Mays promised them when they were recruited that baseball scholarships would come back to the program. Even though many of them were actively pursued to transfer to other programs, Wilkinson knew where he wanted to play.
“I thought Tech was the perfect campus. It had the full flavor of college life, but not so big that you got swallowed up,” Wilkinson said. “Playing baseball at Tennessee Tech and being a starter certainly helped me to grow up and mature to the point where I could make decisions in pressure situations.”
Baseball also helped him make small talk with some of the world’s most powerful men and women. He spoke about the sport with both Presidents Bush and Clinton. The one he talked baseball with the most? Then-first lady Hillary Clinton.
“She was someone who was really an aficionado,” Wilkinson said. “I was amazed at how much she knew about baseball.”
After retiring from the Secret Service, he was asked to be president and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation, which coordinates safety and security planning between the mayor’s office, law enforcement and other officials.
He lives in Brooks, Ga., with his wife, Renee, and their sons, Jonathan and Jacob.