Funeral homes in Richmond County have been paying for police escorts in funeral processions for at least 40 years and probably much longer.
Tommy Poteet, whose family had a funeral home on Greene Street for decades, said he thinks the tradition dates back to the 1950s.
He recalls the fee at that time was usually no more than $5 and was paid as a tip to the officers who provided the service.
“When we had a city motorcycle for an escort, we would just give them cash,” said Poteet, who now owns and operates Thomas Poteet & Son funeral home on Davis Road with his sons Stephen and Buzz.
Poteet said he wasn’t sure when the tips became fees collected by the sheriff for the benevolent fund.
Former Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he thought that practice began under Sheriff James Beck, who served from 1977 to 1980.
Freddie Sanders, who served as the chief of the short-lived Richmond County Police Department in 1984 and 1985, recalls that his officers kept the funeral escort fees, so it possibly started under Sheriff Charlie Webster.
Whatever the case, Poteet said according to family lore, he knows the origin of the fee.
He was told by his father, Henry Poteet, that the tradition of paying for funeral escorts grew out of his family being on the “wrong side of the fence” in old Augusta politics.
Though its power had diminished, the Cracker Party still held sway in much of Richmond County in the 1950s, and his father was a vocal opponent, which had political consequences.
“He couldn’t get the police for funeral escorts,” he said. “So my daddy said he started giving the policemen a tip. That
way we could make sure they would show up and we would get an escort.”