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Former sheriff got early start in office
William Swan

W illiam Swan knew he would have his hands full when he ran for sheriff of McDuffie County back in 1964.

Nevertheless he was determined to run and win, despite the odds.

Mr. Swan knew it would be tough, if not impossible to win against incumbent Sheriff Lynn Norris and two others in the all-Democrat election.

Aside from waging battle against a man who had served as the chief law enforcement officer of the county for many years, Mr. Swan also had another obstacle in his path -- his age.

At 27, Mr. Swan waged an intensified campaign -- one that included talking to voters of all ages, both black and white.

"The people of this county wanted a new sheriff -- someone with younger blood who would treat people fair," recalled Mr. Swan in a recent interview. "I thought I fit those qualities and would make a good sheriff. That's why I ran for the office."

Mr. Swan talked to local supporters of Sheriff Norris at the time, as well as those supportive of him.

He also turned to an age group he considered would spell the difference in his winning and losing. That age group consisted of voters, ages 18 to 35. His political strategy spelled the difference in the outcome of the race.

Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Kenneth Goolsby had informed Mr. Swan that if he was lucky enough to become the new sheriff, he would only be a one-term sheriff.

Mr. Swan quickly replied to him, saying, "That's OK. At least I'll try to be a good sheriff to the people of McDuffie County for four years."

He and the late Mr. Goolsby went on to become good friends.

Steadfast in his belief that he was the best man running, Mr. Swan worked hard, seeing as many prospective voters as he could in his county-wide door-to-door campaign.

"I saw a lot of people and asked for their support," he said.

As it turned out, Mr. Swan won the election -- becoming one of the youngest serving sheriffs in Georgia history.

Mr. Swan, known afterwards as Sheriff Swan, served in that capacity for a total of 27 years and 31 days. He retired for health reasons in 1992.

"I was really burned out," said Mr. Swan. "I had nothing more to give."

During his time as sheriff of McDuffie County, Mr. Swan met opposition three times and came out ahead.

His wife, Stella, worked as a secretary in the sheriff's department during those same years and continued to work there after her husband left office -- becoming one of current Sheriff Logan Marshall's employees. Sheriff Marshall, who had served under Mr. Swan as his chief investigator for several years, went on to succeed his former boss as sheriff.

Mrs. Swan recently retired, too, after 44 years of service. The couple, who has three children and eight grandchildren, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August 2009.

Following his retirement as sheriff, he owned and operated a convenience store just outside the city limits of Thomson for several years.

Now 74, Mr. Swan tends a small garden in the backyard of a home off Washington Road near Thomson. It was where he was raised as a boy by his parents, the late Tom and Annie Blanch English Swan.

"I love living here," said Mr. Swan, who enjoys pulling weeds and plucking tomatoes and other vegetables from his garden. "This is where I grew up."

Mr. Swan grew up with law enforcement in his blood. His mother's brother, James English, served as sheriff of Glascock County for more than 40 years. He died in office.

"I always wanted to be a sheriff when I was growing up," said Mr. Swan, a Glascock County native, whose parents moved to Thomson when he was 5.

Six months ago, his kidneys began shutting down, thus forcing him to take dialysis three times a week.

"It takes about 5 1/2 hours a week to do the dialysis," said Mr. Swan, noting he's fortunate not to have any other serious health problems.

While serving as sheriff of McDuffie County, Mr. Swan helped investigate many murder cases and bring those responsible for such crimes to justice.

All of the homicide cases he helped work during his law enforcement career bothered him. None quite got to him from an emotional standpoint like the two different triple murder cases did.

"Those two cases really got to me, because three of them were children," said Mr. Swan.

In those two cases, the children were ages 6 and 7 and 13.

"That's something nobody in law enforcement likes to have to deal with is the victim being a child," lamented Mr. Swan. "They were the two most difficult cases to work."

Authorities caught the persons responsible for those two crimes -- Eric Poole and Hill Rivers. Mr. Poole recently was paroled from prison, while Mr. Rivers died of cancer a short time after being sentenced to die in the state's electric chair for murder convictions of seven persons in three counties, including Burke and Jefferson counties.

Back then, Georgia's death penalty consisted of the electric chair. Today, it's by lethal injection.

Mr. Swan isn't sad that he is no longer in law enforcement.

"I was in there for a long time, because the people of this county were good to me and was supportive of me in elections, but no, to answer that question, I don't miss it," said Mr. Swan.

He explained that not only has law enforcement changed, but so have the number of crimes.

"It's a lot different today on both sides," added Mr. Swan.

He pointed out that the drug problem has worsened since he left office and that Sheriff Marshall and others in local law enforcement are now confronted with gang violence.

Again, he reiterated, "No, I don't regret being in law enforcement today. I feel for those in law enforcement today, because they've got their hands full."

During his law enforcement days, he admitted, "I saw pretty well everything."

When serving as sheriff, Mr. Swan was considered one of the friendliest law enforcement officials anywhere in America.

He constantly drove down the road -- one of his hands waving to those whom he met along his journey. It was an everyday occurrence -- not just every now and then. For William Swan, it was second nature.

"I've always been a friendly person," said Mr. Swan.

Residents of the county used to say that's how Mr. Swan was able to keep getting elected sheriff when he ran for re-election every four years.

Mr. Swan agreed that it helped, but that was never his sole reason for doing it.

"I waved, because I've always liked people, to be honest about it," said Mr. Swan.

During the time he served as sheriff, Mr. Swan also served as pallbearer for hundreds of friends and others whose families requested him perform that service for their loved ones.

"The people of this county were always so good to me," said Mr. Swan.

"The people were exceptionally good to me. I felt like that was the least that I could do for them was to serve as pallbearer."

Today when Mr. Swan goes into a local store, people still recognize him, even though he now sports a beard.

"It means a lot to me when I see somebody that I know or someone knows me and we say a few words to one another," said Mr. Swan, who loves watching old Westerns, featuring such late actors as Randolph Scott.

"I love watching any of the old Western classics."

Web posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010

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