James D. Paugh was a hero, but it wasn’t his death that made it so.
In life, Paugh was the man who cooked turkeys for firefighters during the holidays, served meals to fellow Richmond County deputies during Masters Week, and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for his neighbors.
He was one who always followed a greeting with a comment to brighten your day.
“The making of a hero is day after day doing what is right,” the Rev. Rodger Murchison said Thursday to a First Baptist Church of Augusta sanctuary packed with men and women in uniform. “Even when you are tired. Even when you are going home late at night and the day has been long, but your duty tells you someone might need me.”
That compulsion proved fatal for Paugh, who was headed home from a special detail early Sunday when he pulled over to investigate a suspicious vehicle on Bobby Jones Expressway at Gordon Highway. Paugh, 47, was immediately fired on by Christopher Michael Hodges, 26, who was drunk and arguing with his girlfriend. After killing Paugh, Hodges turned his assault rifle on himself and took his own life.
In a service that mixed formal ceremony with raw emotion, friends recalled the slain deputy’s character and talked about what makes a hero.
Ken Gross, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office chaplain, said Paugh was not a polished character, nor was he perfect.
“But here in Georgia we love junkyard dogs,” Gross said.
Gross described Paugh as a man willing to give up his time to serve others in public safety and the community. That meshed well with his passion for riding motorcycles.
Because he loved his job in the traffic division, “J.D. hasn’t worked for the past 17 years,” Gross said.
The sanctuary was jammed with deputies from Richmond and Columbia counties, but a wide array of uniforms also represented jurisdictions from across Georgia and South Carolina. Gross said he felt sorry for those who never had a chance to meet Paugh.
“You missed out,” Gross said.
In his message, Murchison explored what made Paugh a hero and how everyone can follow his example. He quoted condolences from all across the country, lamenting the death of a brother officer.
“Our spirits are lifted in the knowledge that Deputy Paugh died a hero, and we are proud of his courage and selfless actions,” Capt. John Sharp of the Walker (La.) Police Department wrote to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
Murchison concluded that Paugh was a hero because he was an ordinary man who took extraordinary actions.
Turn from all the “why” questions and start asking what Paugh would want us to do, Murchison said.
“I think J.D. would say, ‘Be your own hero,’ ” Murchison said.