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A loving farewell to a small-town sheriff

POSTED: January 15, 2012 1:00 a.m.

LUDOWICI — The name Cecil Nobles is not a household word in most of Georgia, but if you asked folks around here, everybody knew him.

Nobles was the longest serving sheriff in Georgia and second longest in the U.S. He died last week after a long battle with cancer.

His path to becoming sheriff was a bit different. He started out as a school teacher. Among the subjects he taught was typing. One of his students said he was a pretty good typing teacher. For today's generation, the notion of a typing teacher is about as far-fetched as a sheriff who took office the same year as Richard Nixon.

When Nobles became sheriff, Ludowici was best known as a speed trap. Things were so bad that Time magazine once wrote about it. When Abit Massey was the head of the Georgia Department of Commerce, he convinced the AAA motor club not to put Georgia on a warning list. Their concern was all about Ludowici, which is located on U.S. 301, the primary route to Florida in the era before interstate highways.

The world changed dramatically in the 43 years since Nobles took office. He helped it evolved from the era of the stereotypical Southern sheriff into an age of modern law enforcement and computers.

It also came with a price of more crime. A speaker at his funeral said the sheriff once joked that he could fish three days a week if it weren't for the problem of illegal drugs in his county.

I didn't know Cecil Nobles well. We met when I began my new job last year. I left his funeral wishing that I had known him better.

Long County, where Ludowici is located, is the kind of place that folks still know one another. Nobles did not bear any physical resemblance to Sheriff Andy Taylor, but you get the since that folks here loved their sheriff the way the folks of Mayberry loved Andy.

The funeral was moved to the First Baptist Church, the biggest in town, and the place was still filled to overflowing. A day earlier, a steady stream of people had lined up to pay their respects to the sheriff and offer condolences to his family.

This is a part of Georgia where there is not much in terms of industry. A lot of folks who live here work elsewhere. Many of them work in the state prisons; there are five of them within a stone's throw of here.

This is also an important area for agriculture. Farmers around here grow cotton, peanuts and Vidalia onions, among other crops.

It is a quiet place where the vast majority of people are the neighborly kind you'd like to know.

It is not often that you hear of a sheriff, or any public official, who serves 43 years in the same office. That era, like the era of getting a gold watch for working 30 or 40 years at a manufacturing plant, seems to have gone the way of the nickel Coke.

One of speakers eluded to some past elections where Nobles faced opposition, but never held a grudge against his opponents.

The gracious neighborly side of some communities may not always be visible, but it was certainly on display last week in Ludowici.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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