It’s well known by now how much former Richmond County Sheriff Charlie Webster loved people, and how much they loved him.
Dozens of people approached current Sheriff Ronnie Strength at Webster’s funeral service Tuesday – “And every one of them said, ‘He always helped people,’ ” Strength recalled. “And they would tell me a story.”
But few know how much Webster, a Navy veteran, loved this country.
Strength knows. While working under Webster for 17 years, Strength would sometimes be in Webster’s car when it somehow found its way out to Bush Field. Webster would pull over and just stare at the airport’s gigantic American flag fluttering in the wind and remark about how beautiful it was. And then he’d stare some more.
“He loved this country, I’m telling you,” Strength said.
Charlie Webster was many things. He was a hunter, fisherman, patriot, politician and powerbroker. But mostly, he was a people person who never forgot his humble beginnings and who spent much of his life helping others in the same shape.
Strength witnessed it himself, repeatedly.
“I would be with him when he would pay somebody’s water bill, light bill, their mortgage payment – and not want anything (in return),” Strength said, a bit shaken after watching his friend buried Tuesday.
Other colleagues would say that as a state revenue agent in the days of moonshine, Webster might arrest someone on a Tuesday and be back on Wednesday to help him make bond.
As much as he did for his fellow man, what Charlie Webster did for Richmond County was just as important. When he took office in 1984, two predecessors had been imprisoned. Claiming no expertise in law enforcement, Webster stabilized the sheriff’s department and restored its image.
He did it by making it clear to his officers on Day 1 that he was going to let them do their jobs – and that the only interference they’d see was him running interference with the county on their behalf to get the manpower and resources they needed. While taking care of the politics of the department, he told his officers never to worry about whom they had to arrest. He didn’t want to know.
“He was the one who got everything back on track and demanded professionalism,” Strength said. “That’s why we respected him so much.”
But while he was a kingmaker whose political support candidates craved – a remnant of the old south Augusta “mafia” politicos – Webster kept things in perspective. Strength laughed, but did not joke, that Webster “did not let this job interfere with his hunting and fishing.”
In retrospect, the workaholic Strength – who retires at the end of this year – laments, “I wish I’d been just like him. He enjoyed life when he was able to do it.”
Webster’s savvy extended beyond politics to life itself: Strength says that when a recent dire diagnosis left Webster with but a couple of weeks to live, he told Strength, “I’m ready to go.” His instincts were as sharp as ever; Webster died Saturday at 80.
That quick, merciful end stands in stark contrast to a long life well lived, and a legacy that simply will not be forgotten.