Stokes proud of department

Published 9:29 am Friday, December 30, 2016

Andy Stokes has seen just about everything in his nearly 50 years in law enforcement.

He has seen drunks wielding knives, fugitives firing guns and more gory scenes than he wants to remember. And as Davie County sheriff for the past 10 years, he’s responded to every type of call he requires of his officers. He was a hands-on highway patrolman, a magistrate, and most recently, a working sheriff.

Nothing can phase a man this tough, right?

He’s quick to show a photo on his phone of granddaughter, Ellie Kate Stokes. It’s him and her, his big tough hand holding onto her delicate, 3-year-old hand. They were walking along the Davie High School track at a football game. She wanted something from the concession stand, and he was taking her.

Waiting in line, she tells him she has to go to the bathroom. Mom and grandmother are clear across the stadium. It is crowded. He’d been in the men’s restroom, and wasn’t about to take her in there. He couldn’t just barge into the women’s restroom, either.

A woman noticed his predicament, and offered to take Ellie Kate to the bathroom.

The story tells two things about Andy Stokes. It’s the friendliness of the people that made him want to stay here when first assigned as a rookie highway patrolman in July of 1967.

And there is family. Wife Jewell is already retired. Ellie Kate was diagnosed with leukemia last fall, and they want to help in any way they can.

Stokes said it is time to retire, to focus more on family while he still can. “They need to quit making sacrifices for me,” he said. “It’s a pleasure for me to be able to do this.”

He’s leaving the sheriff’s department in good hands with J.D. Hartman and every officer on staff.

“I’ve assembled as good a bunch of cops as I could have.”

He leads by example. They know he will answer any type of call, and often does. “You can pull them anywhere, but you can’t push them anywhere,” he said. “I’m honest, and they know they should be honest.”

An old-school police officer, Stokes is confident the department is staffed and equipped to fight modern crime. “I’m thankful for being able to work with such good law enforcement officers. I’ve left this county in good shape. J.D. (Hartman) will make an excellent sheriff.”

Stokes’ law enforcement career almost didn’t happen.

Growing up in Vance County, by age 15, he knew he wanted to be a highway patrolman. When he got older, he applied for the job. He was rejected. He was an eighth of an inch too short.

He didn’t give up, and hung by his feet for hours, trying to stretch his body. He learned that the body actually settles during the day, so he made sure his next entry exam was in the morning. He made it, and entered rookie school at age 20. He had to wait before being sworn in as a trooper, who had to be 21.

Things were going great, until he got his first assignment: Davie County. Cows outnumbered people. It was the middle of nowhere. Stokes knew he wouldn’t like it here, and immediately went about typing a request to be transferred.

Then the people of Davie started to grow on him. He liked living here. And he was hearing war stories of the horrible things officers in other counties were dealing with.

Davie County wasn’t so bad, after all.

He spent 23 years here as a highway patrolman before an injury forced him into early retirement. But in those years, he learned a lot about Davie County and its people.

He saw way too many dead at the scenes of wrecks, and then had to talk to their families.

As the sheriff’s department wasn’t very well trained or equipped in the early days, the highway patrolmen went to about all emergency scenes, he said. He remembers being the first on the scene of a house fire with fellow trooper, Willie Grooms. A man was trapped inside. Grooms tore a sheet off a clothesline. They wet it with water, and Stokes covered himself with it as he crawled through the smoke, feeling for the man, then pulling him to safety.

He remembers well the night he comforted a 7-year-old boy at a wreck scene, making sure he didn’t notice his mother who had died, literally, at their feet.

There are more stories, some with endings that aren’t that happy.

“You don’t make a plan, you react to an emergency,” Stokes said. “You try to stay calm and do what you need to do. It’s been a memorable career.”

Stokes gives credit to his years as a magistrate for expanding his knowledge of the law, providing more information to be sheriff than as a patrolman.

“You learn there are always two sides to every story,” he said. A lawyer paid him a compliment, Stokes said, after he had made a ruling in magistrate’s court. The lawyer said he was “legally wrong but morally right.”

“I tried to help people when I could,” Stokes said. “I don’t use their trouble for my political gain.”

He first ran for sheriff to make the department a good place to work and to take drugs off the streets.

His biggest disappointment, although none of his fault, is that law enforcement work isn’t seen as a noble profession. “It is honorable work,” he said. “Most cops just want to help people.”

“I’m looking forward to doing things at my leisure, instead of the county’s. This county has given me so much. It has been my pleasure to give back a bit.

“I enjoy what I do every day. It’s time to wrap up this dream and start another. I still want the best for Davie County. I still plan to be active in my community and my church. It’s been an amazing journey.

“This has been the most rewarding career. You’re in a position to help people when they desparately need help. It’s just time to retire and I’m glad I recognize that.”

Just over a week ago, he still hadn’t taken a single item from his office.

Why? He’s still the sheriff. And he will be until he signs off for the final time at midnight on Dec. 31.