Charles B. Webster, a four-term sheriff of Richmond County and one of the last of the kingmakers in south Augusta politics, died at his home Saturday. He was 80.
Webster succumbed to complications from liver cancer a little more than two weeks after it was discovered during a routine doctor’s visit, according to Sheriff Ronnie Strength, his longtime friend.
“Even though he was a respected sheriff and public servant, it will be his legacy of helping people that could not help themselves that he he’ll be remembered for,” Strength said. “He did so many, many things for folks in need that nobody ever knew about. He never asked for anything in return.”
Webster, a former state revenue agent, was elected sheriff in February 1984 to fill the unexpired term of Sheriff J.B. Dykes, whose tenure had ended in a ticket-fixing scandal and a prison sentence.
Webster faced four other candidates in that special election and ultimately defeated Johnny Beard, a former sheriff’s investigator, in a runoff. Webster had to run again that year but was unopposed in the general election.
Even though it was his first bid for elected office, Webster had deep connections in county politics as one of the inner circle of the so-called Southside Mafia, a group of political kingmakers who wielded power in Richmond County for decades. The group included founder Roy V. Harris, a lawyer and Cracker Party politician, and others, such as state legislators Bernard Miles and Mike Padgett and former Richmond County Attorney Bob Daniel, all of whom are long deceased.
“He was the last one of those guys left,” said former Augusta Mayor Larry Sconyers, who recalled that Webster had a regular seat at the table at his restaurant, where the group met on Saturdays.
Sconyers said Webster was a natural politician and a mentor to him, helping him become a county commissioner in 1990 and the consolidated government’s first mayor in 1996.
“I don’t think he never met a stranger,” Sconyers said. “He had this way about him that made meeting people come natural to him.”
Strength, who became Webster’s chief deputy in 1989, said his friend knew what his strong points were and did not attempt to interfere in the jobs of his deputies.
“He met with his staff, and he told us he didn’t know a thing about law enforcement,” Strength said, recalling when Webster was first elected. “He said that was our job and he expected us to do our job. He handled the politicking.”
Strength said Webster had a love for politics and deal making, but never wanted to be seen as a fixer who could make things happen inside the halls of justice.
“I can remember that he never wanted anybody to think he would do anything wrong or illegal in office,” he said. “He told me, ‘Son, I do not care who you investigate if they are involved in criminal activity. You do your job.’ ”
Former Augusta Commissioner Jimmy Smith said Webster’s death marks the end of an era in county politics. He was active up to the end, still participating in meetings and gatherings and supporting his friend, Freddie Sanders, in the race for sheriff. Smith said a lot of other people were stunned by Webster’s sudden illness and passing.
“I had all the respect in the world for him,” he said. “He was one of the finest men I’ve ever known. He was real a top-notch fellow, and it shocked everybody.”
Webster also will be remembered as an avid outdoorsman, who could be found in the woods or by a fishing pond most every weekend, Strength said.
“He fished all the time,” he said. “Good gracious alive, he could drain a pond.”
Friends said Webster had no children, and his wife, Frances, died in 2010. Funeral details were still being arranged with Thomas Poteet & Son Funeral Directors, Strength said. He expected the funeral would be held Tuesday and would likely include a large contingent of law enforcement and other dignitaries from around the state.
“As far as I am concerned there was only one sheriff of Richmond County, Charlie Webster,” Strength said. “All I did was fill in for the past 12 years. He was the sheriff.”