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Jerry E. Richards
(March 19, 1938-August 5, 1998)

The webmaster wishes to convey a heartfelt thanks to Edna Mull "Pete" Richards for her assistance in supplying dates and locations for the following story.
 
 
Jerry Eugene Richards was born in Cleveland County, North Carolina on March 19, 1938. The son of Dwight and Laura Armour Richards, Jerry attended grade school in Shelby, N.C. In 1956, he moved to Cleveland, Georgia to help his aunt with the arduous task of raising her children after her husband was killed in a tragic accident. Jerry attended high school in Cleveland and enlisted in the Marine Corps shortly after his graduation.
 
Richards married his sweetheart, Edna "Pete" Mull on January 1, 1960. He and Pete adjusted to military life together and celebrated the birth of their first son, Tracy on October 11, 1960.  
 
The professionalism and rigorous training demanded by the Marines made an impression on young Richards. After his discharge from the Marines in 1960, he decided on a career in law enforcement and joined the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. After his graduation from the academy in August 1961, the Patrol assigned Richards to Madison County in western North Carolina. During this time, Pete gave birth to a second son, Stephen. The Patrol transferred Jerry to Burke County in April of 1963. 
 
It was during his tenure with the Highway Patrol that Richards felt the desire to bring the spit-and-polish look of the military to other areas of county law enforcement. He furthered his education in the police science field at Western Piedmont Community College (graduating in 1972) and set his sites to become the chief law enforcement officer of Burke County. Richards, a Democrat, challenged and defeated incumbent Republican Lee Brittain, becoming Burke County's fifty-fifth sheriff in 1974. 
 
Richards immediately went to work to change the appearance and persona of the Sheriff's Office. He learned that many deputies carried their own duty weapons and wore mismatched uniforms. Richards brought a new mindset of uniformity to the Sheriff's Office, stressing to his staff that a deputy would not perform professionally if he or she did not look professional. Funds were appropriated and departmental policies written to have deputies wear the same uniform and carry the same type of firearm.
 
Sheriff Richards also saw the need for officers, as well as himself, to further their education. He insisted that his officers receive intensive training as he received in both the military and Highway Patrol. Training courses, such as firearms, defensive driving, etc. were established through local colleges to better equip his deputies.  
 
Richards himself enrolled in a University of Southern California management class in 1974 to receive guidance in overseeing his thirty-some officers. A desire to improve his investigative skills led him to enroll and graduate from a University of Indiana criminal investigation school in 1975. Richards also was accepted into the prestigious Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy in Quantico, Virginia, proudly graduating in the summer of 1977 in what he felt was one of his life's greatest accomplishments.
 
Burke County citizens were apparently pleased with noticeable changes in local law enforcement and re-elected Richards to a second term as sheriff in 1978. Richards became well respected by many of the other ninety-nine sheriffs in North Carolina. He was the first "first-term" sheriff ever elected as an officer with the North Carolina Sheriff's Association, serving as second vice-president. The professionalism he desired for Burke County was carried to the state level when he was elected as the 1980-1981 president of the Sheriff's Association.
 
Re-elected as sheriff again in 1982, Richards continued his duties with both the Sheriff's Office and as a driving force with the N.C. Sheriff's Association. Other men that would later hold the sheriff's office served under Richards, including Ralph Johnson, Richard Epley, and John McDevitt.
 
Richards was re-elected once again in 1986. It was during this term that he became chairman of Sheriff's Training and Standards, a committee that mandates the requirements for deputies in the state. During this time, the minimal training hours for a "rookie school" recruit were increased. Other standards were set to ensure deputies were of suitable calibre to serve their respective counties.
 
Richards retired halfway through his fourth term, serving a total of fourteen years as sheriff. His tenure was the second longest in the history of the office, with only Sheriff Ray Sigmon serving longer (sixteen years). Citing a desire to spend more time with his family and answering a call to live closer to God, Richards became an active member at El Bethel Baptist Church on Highway 181 in Morganton. His devotion was rewarded by his subsequent election to the church's Board of Deacons.  
 
Shortly after his retirement, Jerry's dream of traveling with his wife and enjoying his children and grandchildren was short-lived when doctors discovered cancer had invaded his body. Always a fighter who met challenges head-on, Richards fought a brave six-year war against the disease and became an inspiration to many people. He lost the battle on August 5, 1998, passing away at his home surrounded by his family. 
 
Law enforcement officers and dignitaries throughout the state attended the visitation and funeral for Sheriff Richards. He was laid to rest in the El Bethel church cemetery, ending the legacy of a man many perceive to be Burke County's most influential and productive sheriff.