Oxford, MS – Lafayette County Sheriff F.D. “Buddy” East, the longest-tenured sheriff in the state of Mississippi, passed away on Sep. 8, following a brief illness.
Sheriff East, 76, celebrated his 46th year as sheriff in August, and was in the midst of his 12th term when he died at Baptist Memorial Hospital at 10:20 a.m., surrounded by friends, family, and deputies, the Clarion Ledger reported.
"It's such a sad day, but for 46 years he touched a lot of lives and helped a lot of people and did so much for Lafayette County and Oxford and the state," Lafayette County Coroner Rocky Kennedy said.
Sheriff East began his law enforcement career in 1964, and had served as the county’s sheriff since 1972. He was the second-longest serving sheriff in the history of United States.
According to The Dispatch, he planned to run for a 13th term in 2019.
"He's basically like the icon of Lafayette County law enforcement," said U.S. Marshalls Gulf Coast Regional Task Force Deputy Commander Mike Quarles, whose late father was also close friends with Sheriff East. "There's never been anybody like him."
“Words cannot describe the impact and legacy left on Lafayette County and the entire Law Enforcement community in the state of Mississippi over his 46 years of honorable service,” the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department said in a press release. “Blessed are the peace makers.”
The Lafayette County Law Enforcement Officers Association said the impact of the beloved sheriff’s passing was felt across the entire state.
“Sheriff East was much more than the badge to many in this County and State,” the association said in a Facebook post.
“Throughout his long career, Sheriff East was recognized with countless awards, certificates, honorable titles and metals,” the association said in a later post. “Among the many, he was most honored to be awarded the Silver Star for Bravery from the American Law Enforcement Association and, most recently in 2015, Sheriff East was honored by The Lafayette County Law Enforcement and Officers Association with the Medal of Valor and Unselfishness in the Face of Danger.”
In 1991, “recognizing his love and devotion,” his community named him the Oxford Citizen of the year, the post read.
Cmdr. Quarles recalled the awe he felt at the age of five years old, when Sheriff East would receive a call for service while they were attending church, the Clarion Ledger reported.
"I'd see him leaving the parking lot with blue lights and siren going, and as a kid, that was the coolest thing,” Cmdr. Quarles remembered fondly. “He was right up there with Wyatt Earp and some of those guys in my mind.”
Northern District U.S. Attorneys Office Criminal Division Chief Bob Norman described an occasion early in Sheriff East’s first term, when the sheriff convinced a suspect to give up a hostage and to take him instead.
“He wasn’t supposed to do that,” Norman said. “But he did it. He talked the guy into giving himself up.”
Even in the most dire, gut-wrenching situations, Sheriff East never lost his will to serve others, Norman said.
He explained another incident in 1984, when a man with a high-powered rifle fired his weapon at passing vehicles from a hiding place in the forest.
One of those rounds fatally struck a 4-year-old boy riding in a vehicle.
When Norman arrived at the scene, he found the sheriff on his knees in the middle of the highway in tears.
He then told Norman to block approaching traffic.
"I’ve got to get this little boy’s brains off the road,” the grieving sheriff told him.
When Sheriff East later went to question the suspect, the murderer laughed in his face, Norman said.
But the sheriff was undeterred, and continued the interview, as was his duty.
"Buddy was a very simple man. He was very unpretentious but he always did the right thing," Norman said.
On another occasion, Sheriff East preemptively quelled an anticipated hostile situation involving a search warrant at the home of a woman with several teenage sons, Norman told the Clarion Ledger.
“He didn’t like…to kick down the door,” Norman explained. “He [told the woman,] ‘I’ve got a court order to search your house and I’m going to do that. My deputies are nervous and your boys are going to be high strung, too. If you bring them downstairs and everyone can just sit in the front room and be calm, everybody will be OK and we won't tear your house up.'"
"He had a way with people,” Norman said. “Even the criminals respected him. It was just kind of neat to watch."
These were but a few of the stories that made Sheriff East a legend.
Kennedy described him as a “father figure” who mentored countless people during his decades of service.
"He was a man of few words and when he said something he meant it,” Northern District U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar told the Clarion Ledger. “He was a tough man, he was a fair man…Some people just can’t be replaced, but he’s the example of what you should strive for.”
Norman recalled an occasion when he asked Sheriff East if he could use him as a job reference.
“Would you lie for me?” Norman jokingly asked him during the exchange.
"He looked at me and he was dead serious and he said, 'Bob, I like you, but I'm not going to lie for you…That's not something you joke about,” Norman recounted.
“I don’t think Buddy ever told a lie in his life,” Norman said. “He just wasn’t capable of it.”
Lamar said that Sheriff East’s devotion and service changed the local community forever.
“In law enforcement, there's a common cross, whether you want to call it a badge or a shield or a star,” Lamar explained. “When it's given to you, it's given to you shiny and brilliant, and at the end of your service you should return it the same way.”
"Sheriff East, when he left it with us this morning, he left it shining far more brilliantly than the day it was given to him,” he said.
Sheriff East leaves behind his wife, Mary, his daughters, Melissa and Shannon, his sons, Joey, Steve, and Scott, and 13 beloved grandchildren, according to the Lafayette County Law Enforcement Officers Association’s Facebook post.
He will be laid to rest on Friday.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Lafayette County Sheriff F.D. “Buddy” East, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.