A lasting legacy: UTMB Police Chief Tom Engells remembered as brilliant, humble leader

Feb 23, 2018, 16:16 PM by KirstiAnn Clifford
Chief Tom Engells
As the University of Texas System community continues to mourn the sudden loss of UTMB Police Chief Tom Engells, those who knew him are remembering his charismatic personality and the legacy he built.

“He was a wonderful man, a marvelous leader— and he had a wicked wit,” said UTMB President David Callender. “Oftentimes, during a meeting, while we were talking about something serious, he would know exactly the right comment to lighten the mood and help us think more clearly.”

Engells, who led the UTMB Police Department since 2010, passed away unexpectedly at his home on Jan. 21. A proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Engells was part of the UT System family for more than 34 years, rising in the ranks from police officer to police chief.

Under his leadership, UTMB became the first UT System police department to achieve national accreditation for excellence from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). He was named the inaugural UT System Police Chief of the Year in 2011 and earned the honor again in 2014. He also was named “Law Enforcement Administrator of the Year” by the Texas Association of College and University Police Administrators. More recently, Engells achieved international recognition for his expertise in biosecurity.

Although Engells’ accomplishments and contributions were many, he always attributed his success to the men and women officers he led. As he told the Impact newsletter for a recent article, “These men and women do amazing work so regularly here that it has become a routine expectation. From life-saving events to significant charitable campaigns for the community, my folks accomplish a lot without fanfare or publicity. My success is attributed to their hard work on a daily basis.”

Outside of work, Engells was known as a devoted family man who made holiday fudge every year and enjoyed tending to his “monster” 20-foot fig tree in his garden. He is survived by his wife, Peggy, and daughter, Laura, whose accomplishments were the source of his joy and admiration.

Dr. Callender invited the entire UTMB community and police department colleagues for a memorial tribute celebrating the life of Chief Engells on Feb. 23 at Levin Hall Main Auditorium on the Galveston Campus.

“Chief Engells will have a powerful, lasting impact on all who knew him. His influence here went beyond just policing and into every aspect of what we do at UTMB,” Callender said. “We will surely miss him.”

The Galveston County Daily News contributed to this story.
Ruben Puente
Ruben Puente to serve as interim police chief

Ruben Puente, assistant director of the UT System Police Department, has been appointed to serve as interim chief of police for UTMB, as of Jan. 30.

During his career, Puente has served in the Arlington, Texas, Police Department and held a command position with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police. As senior manager of corporate security with Frito Lay North America, he oversaw security operations for 52,000 employees in 18 regional offices, 10 manufacturing plants and 200 distribution centers throughout the U.S. He also oversaw corporate security operations for Major League Baseball, including planning sporting event security throughout North America and in numerous international venues. He joined the UT System Police Department in 2012.

“Looking ahead, we will work with the UT System Director of Police, Interim Chief Puente and the UTMB Police Department to initiate the process for hiring a permanent chief of police for the institution. We will keep the university community updated on our progress in the search,” said UTMB President David Callender in a message to employees. “In the meantime, please join me in welcoming Interim Chief Puente to the UTMB community and in supporting our entire police department in its continuing work to ensure our university remains a safe and secure environment in which to work, study and seek care.”