Butler hopes to bring change to county
Lessie Butler began his term as Lawrence County’s sheriff on Jan. 1 hoping to ignite change within the county. He’s the first elected black sheriff in the county.
“I just seen a need for a little different approach in the county, and I put my name down for running for sheriff and wasn’t expecting to get it, but things turned, and I ended up with it,” Butler said.
Butler was born and raised in Lawrence County by his father, who served as a local preacher. Butler’s father inspired him to live his life in service of others, he said.
“He always said, ‘Live by the golden rule. Do on to others as you want them to do on to you,’” Butler said. “And during my career — I worked at Georgia Pacific during all this time for 46 years — I just carried myself in a manner that if I could help somebody, I tried to do that.”
In addition to working for Georgia Pacific, Butler served in the National Guard for 33 years.
“I got drafted right before they cut the draft off and then we had to go to Vietnam,” Butler said. “Of course every other class when I finished my AIT was going to Vietnam. They gave us the opportunity to go into either the 82nd Airborne or take a chance to go to Germany, but you might end up numb, so I volunteered for the 82nd Airborne. I spent two years in that and then I left. I got out in ‘73 and in ’74, I joined the National Guard and spent about 33 years total, before I retired.”
Butler chose to pursue a career in law enforcement after patrolling the county with a friend in 1989.
“Back then it was three deputies, the sheriff and that’s who covered the whole county,” Butler said. “To keep them from being out by themselves, they’d get people to ride with them. I started riding with him and from that I progressed into being an auxiliary deputy.”
In 1992, the sheriff’s office hired Butler as a process server and gave him the opportunity to attend the academy to earn his minimum standard.
Butler continued to serve as an auxiliary deputy for the sheriff’s department and in 2000 he was elected constable.
“I was constable from that time all they way up until ‘16 when I run for the sheriff and got it,” Butler said. “All say that I was the first black constable that was elected when I got that, and now I done turned around and become the first black sheriff when I got this.”
Butler said managing all three jobs proved to be difficult, but he felt his duty was to serve his community and so he always tried to do just that with a positive attitude.
“It was quite difficult,” Butler said. “You didn’t have no social life, to be honest with you. My Guard was kind of flexible. They would let you — a lot of times they had extra work that needed to be done throughout the week and sometimes if you was on an off day, you could go up there and make up a day for the drill, instead of going to the drill day, if it fell on your work day, so you didn’t have to take off of work. And the constable, it’s just a part-time job anyway. You serve your processes on your off days. Most of the time it would fall pretty close to right, and I could swap out time and at that time we were only eight-hour shifts, and that worked out pretty good.”
Butler said one of the goals he hopes to accomplish during his term is to create a trustworthy atmosphere between law enforcement and the residents of Lawrence County. He believes that by creating a mutual trust, the community can work together to solve the problems they are facing.
“We want to get the confidence of the citizens, then we can get the neighborhood watch program, and that would be effective in helping in deterring crime in the neighborhood,” Butler said. “We done brought it to the Board of Supervisors to be part of the narcotics task force, and we got that into play. We’ve just got a few documents that need to be signed.”
Butler said he hopes to inspire the community and his law enforcement officers to serve others and use good judgment in every situation.
“My whole desire is to make the atmosphere of working at the sheriff’s department here at Lawrence County a place that the people working here can enjoy coming to work and working with their counterparts in a manner that is not in a stressful nature,” Butler said.
Lawrence County will continue to see progress in the future, but for right now he is proof that things can change, Butler said.
“It’s something,” Butler said. “I never would have thought me being raised — I graduated from McCullough High School before they integrated. It was still segregated at the time I graduated and for me to graduate in an area where it seemed like it was a separation between the races and now I become sheriff in that same county, it’s quite overwhelming, I’ll put it that way.”