History was made when Joseph D. Nelson was hired by Thomson City Council as the city's first black police chief last Thursday night.
The 40-year-old Mr. Nelson has served as a road patrol officer and investigator with the Washington Police Department for the past 18 years. He replaces John Hathaway, who served as police chief in Thomson for nearly 25 years. Mr. Hathaway retired from the department with more than 35 years of service to the city just two days before his successor was named.
"I'm very proud to have been chosen the new police chief in Thomson," Chief Nelson said during a telephone interview with The McDuffie Mirror following the council meeting. "I'm looking forward to working there and helping to make Thomson as safe a place as I can make it."
Chief Nelson, a former military policeman in the Army, described himself as "a no-nonsense person."
He pointed out that while he will access certain situations before making most changes, there is one thing that will come immediately.
"I'm going to put the officers in uniforms as soon as possible," Chief Nelson said. "We're going to look and act professional at all times."
Chief Nelson was one of five top candidates from a field of 18 applicants to be interviewed by council members recently.
"We had five very good candidates," Thomson City Administrator Don Powers said. "It was obvious from his interview that he was the top choice."
Mr. Powers said council members were "very impressed" with him.
"We're all excited about him coming to Thomson."
Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry echoed excitement in the hiring of Chief Nelson.
"I think we chose the right person for the job," Mayor Usry said.
Chief Nelson is married. Mrs. Nelson is a registered nurse at Trinity and Doctors hospitals in Augusta. They have three children and currently reside in Washington. As soon as school is out for the summer, the family will be moving to Thomson.
"There's no one who will outwork him," said Dennis Sanders, district attorney of the Toombs Judicial Circuit, who along with Senior Assistant District Attorney William Doupe' has worked closely with him in preparing cases to county grand juries. "He's a hardworking man."
Mr. Sanders said Mr. Nelson had been a "fine" investigator in Washington and that he looks forward to working with him as the new police chief in Thomson.
"Joe has great work ethics and a great sense of humor," Mr. Sanders said.
"He's very personable and loves sports. He's also very community-minded and enjoys helping kids."
Thomson City Councilman Jaye Jones urged everyone in the community to get behind and support Chief Nelson, who was hired unanimously by council members on Thursday night.
"We need to get behind Chief Nelson and support him 100 percent," Mr. Jones said. "Let's root him on."
Chief Nelson was actually hired for the vacant post following motions by Thomson Mayor Pro Tem Alton Belton and the Rev. John Smalley.
It marks the first time in the history of Thomson that a black man has been chosen to lead the city's police department.
Two other neighboring cities -- Warrenton and Wrens -- also have black police chiefs, Jim McClain in Warrenton and David Hannah in Wrens.