A Strength of the community

Departing Richmond County sheriff leaves huge shoes to fill

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Ronnie Strength followed in his father’s footsteps.

But only so far.

Strength remembers his father, who also worked for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office for some 30 years, holding down two and three jobs in order to raise his family. He remembers pleading with him to retire.

“Every year, he told me, ‘Ronnie, I’m going to retire next year. You know, me and mother got a little place up in Clarks Hill.’ And I was so excited about that.

“He had a stroke and died down here, working. I don’t forget that.”

While he still can, Sheriff Ronnie Strength is taking his feet where his father never took his: He’s walking away from the sheriff’s department he will have called home for 36 years at the end of this year.

And he might as well have called it “home.” If you do it right, the job of sheriff is a 24/7 affair. Strength’s dedication was such that he never even took vacations, donating his five weeks back to the residents he served every year.

He didn’t mind a bit, even calling his 35 years a “vacation” because he’s loved the work so much: “When I wake up every single morning – and this sounds corny – I have been excited to come to work. This has been my vacation.”

But in retrospect, he says, he’s been dedicated to a fault, taking a lifelong work ethic – starting at a neighbor’s grocery at age 13 – and stretching it into his only regret.

“That’s the way we were raised,” he said Friday, announcing he won’t seek re-election. “You worked hard and you earned. I know no different.

“I was wrong by doing it. For 35 years, I put this job ahead of my family. And for that, I was wrong.”

If he regrets that, he’s the only law-abiding citizen in Richmond County who does. When word of his impending retirement hit the streets even before his announcement, he was bombarded with calls and e-mails that at first pleaded with him to reconsider – then expressed unconditional support for his decision.

“It is so simple,” the 66-year-old Strength told them, as he told us. “I’m tired. Being sheriff will take a lot out of you. It’s days, it’s nights, it’s weekends, it’s holidays. There’s always something going on. I just can’t do it like I used to do it.”

It’s how he’s done it that makes Ronnie Strength a living legend in this town: With almost every other public institution here having experienced turmoil, dysfunction and public angst over the years, Strength’s sheriff’s office has been beyond rock solid. Trusted and relied upon as a law enforcement agency was meant to be, his department has been the steadiest influence in Augusta public service – despite dealing with all the surprises, dangers and indignities such an agency deals with.

He’s also made the occasional splash, though – with several major sting operations in the last few years, such as the recent “Operation Smoke Screen,” that have swept hundreds of crooks off the streets and earned national recognition and peer respect.

He’s done it over three-and-a-half decades of constant change, too – with officers moving from 3x5 index cards to all of today’s gadgets, and criminals becoming exponentially more violent over the years.

How has he done it? One word: integrity. Being firm and fair, and treating everyone the same – with care and respect – is something former Sheriff Charlie Webster handed him along with the office keys.

“I’ve lived by that,” Strength says. “If you treat everybody the same, whether they’re an employee or a citizen, you’ll never have a problem. And it has paid dividends.

“Anybody comes down here and wants to see me, they are going to see me. I don’t care who they are. I don’t care if they had an appointment. They are going to see me. And I return 100 percent (of) telephone calls. My secretary says ‘You have lost your mind.’”

Never has Strength’s integrity shone as bright as those few sad occasions when an officer himself breaks the law. The sheriff never hesitated to treat them like everybody else, too. “I’ve never covered up for anybody. My people know that. I will not do it.”

His biggest challenge? Doing with less: He’s got 32 fewer uniformed officers on the streets today than when he was first elected in 2000.

His biggest heartaches? Losing four deputies over the years, three to traffic fatalities and one, J.D. Paugh, to a roadside sniper just last October. “You never forget,” Strength says.

He should know about being unforgettable. Ronnie Strength leaves huge shoes to fill.

And a cautionary tale about when it’s time for them to walk.

Comments (10) Add comment
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Retired Army
17512
Points
Retired Army 03/11/12 - 01:01 am
4
0
So long Sherriff. Great job!

So long Sherriff. Great job!

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 03/11/12 - 02:33 am
1
0
"Peace through Strength." How

"Peace through Strength."

How much peace will there be without him?

seenitB4
90790
Points
seenitB4 03/11/12 - 07:24 am
1
0
He should know about being

He should know about being unforgettable. Ronnie Strength leaves huge shoes to fill.

So true....

Riverman1
86908
Points
Riverman1 03/11/12 - 08:47 am
3
0
He's a good, intelligent man

He's a good, intelligent man who worked hard for the county. I can totally relate to sitting up at the lake.

Riverman1
86908
Points
Riverman1 03/11/12 - 09:29 am
3
0
I wonder what happens to the

I wonder what happens to the huge campaign chest Strength has accumulated? He got over $300,000 the last time and had few expenditures. I really don't know, but does he get to take that with him? I know it can also be passed onto other candidates of his choosing.

Riverman1
86908
Points
Riverman1 03/11/12 - 07:31 pm
0
0
oops, wrong article.

oops, wrong article.

broad street narrow mind
348
Points
broad street narrow mind 03/11/12 - 10:18 am
0
0
"some things in richmon
Unpublished

"some things in richmon county are never affected." i agree, river.
Where will his war chest go? to peebles or his wife's brother, or elsewhere?

Retired Army
17512
Points
Retired Army 03/11/12 - 10:37 am
4
0
Under the law the campaign

Under the law the campaign chest is his to do with as he pleases. I would not hold it against him were he to use it for himself. Folks wanted him to have it and I don't think the government will/could ever properly comensate him for the magnificent service he has given to Richmond County.

This is a very rare exception to what I would normally think out to be done with that kind of cash. But Ronnie Strength has been a rare example of everything we want in a public servant.

Riverman1
86908
Points
Riverman1 03/11/12 - 11:32 am
0
0
Retired Army, I know the law

Retired Army, I know the law for Congressmen was changed just after Doug Barnard retired. He was the last of the Congressmen who got to keep it all. But I don't know if that applies to local officials. Not doubting you, but I'd like to hear other opinions.

Conservative Man
5577
Points
Conservative Man 03/11/12 - 02:24 pm
0
1
I think Ronnie Strength

I think Ronnie Strength brought a sense of stability to an office that has had it's share of troubles in the past. Kudos for achieving that sir. But I think Mr. Strength was entirely correct when he said it was time for him to step down.
Thank you for your service. But now let's elect someone who will take a more proactive approach to law enforcement rather than Sheriff Strength"s favored "reactive" approach...A 21st century attitude.
Or simply put....a Sheriff that embraces "community policing".

Riverman1
86908
Points
Riverman1 03/11/12 - 03:26 pm
0
0
What's "hueg" in the

What's "hueg" in the subtitle?

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 03/11/12 - 04:16 pm
0
1
Change is not always a bad

Change is not always a bad thing. I think the sheriff has done an okay job. If the sheriff has been putting the job before family -- he should have left a long time ago! His family is more important than any job! Any business should have policies and procedures that everyone understands and should continue to run without micro management or any kind of supervision because employees understand the procedures and policies. If the sheriff has done a good job things will go on…

kissofdeath
423
Points
kissofdeath 03/11/12 - 10:18 pm
0
0
Its time for Major Ken Autry,

Its time for Major Ken Autry, the man behind the scence who oversees all violent crime and drug operation, to run for Sheriff he's more than qualify to replace Strength.

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