Long County’s Law Day observance this year paid tribute to a true law-enforcement legend: the late Sheriff Cecil Nobles.
During the Tuesday ceremony at the Long County Courthouse, a portrait of Nobles was unveiled in the courtroom.
The courtroom was standing-room only as fellow peace officers and legal public servants told stories about Nobles. Long County State Court Judge Jeffery Arnold welcomed all and told of the admiration he had for Nobles.
“We’re honoring a man who rarely thought about himself, but he dedicated his life to helping others,” Arnold said.
Nobles served as the sheriff of Long County for 44 years. When he died in 2012, he was the longest-serving sheriff in the state and the second-longest serving in the nation.
Wayne Dasher, along with Nobles, was one of the men who started the Law Enforcement Appreciation Cookout that is held annually in Tattnall County. Dasher told the packed courthouse that when they started the event in 1987, they only had a handful of guests. But he said that with the hard work of supporters like Nobles, the gathering now brings in approximately 2,000 people every year.
“He was always thinking about someone else,” Dasher said.
Attorney Billy Jones told guests that when he was a young assistant district attorney, Nobles always was eager to offer him advice. Jones said they worked on many cases that included tough charges such as aggravated assault — even murder — but he said that no matter where they were, Nobles always acted like a “Southern gentleman.” Jones said many people wondered how Nobles could be re-elected so many times, but Jones knows the answer. He said it was because Nobles loved and cared about the people of Long County.
“He helped people in any way that he could,” Jones said.
The compliments to Nobles were many, and several speakers told stories that brought laughter to the courtroom.
Atlantic Judicial Circuit Judge Robert L. Russell repeated a story that Nobles had told him of how the sheriff and several deputies were in a wooded area searching for a dangerous suspect. As the group got closer to the man, to everyone’s surprise, he started shooting at them. Russell said Nobles hid behind a pine tree, but once he was there, he realized that much of his body still was exposed. The courtroom exploded into laughter as Russell quoted Nobles as saying, “Judge, that was the smallest pine tree in Long County.”
On a more serious note, Russell told the courtroom of the bond Nobles had with the people of Long County.
“I think that back in the day, Sheriff Nobles knew every voter in this county by sight and name,” Russell said.
After all of the guests praised the late sheriff, his oldest son, James, came to the podium on behalf of his mother, Peggy, brothers Kenneth and Craig, and the rest of his family. James Nobles thanked all in attendance and all of the speakers for their kind words.
He said he is proud of his father’s service as a sheriff, but he added that Cecil Nobles was more than a peace officer. He said that most people don’t know it, but his father also had been a teacher in the Long County school system before he was elected as sheriff. He said his time as a teacher helped his father be a mentor to many people.
He said that even though his father was the catalyst for placing many people behind bars, he also was a mentor to them. Many prisoners, James Nobles said, sent his father letters from prison thanking him for his help, and many came by the sheriff’s office after they had been released to see him and offer him their gratitude.
“To the citizens of Long County, he would have said, ‘Thank you for electing me every time and allowing me to serve you for 51 years,’” Nobles said.
After James Nobles concluded his comments, his mother and brother Craig Nobles, who is the current sheriff, unveiled the portrait of Cecil Nobles.
After the ceremony, friends and loved ones took the time to express their gratitude to the family and told them of their kinship to Cecil Nobles. Though the majority of the guests were from the local community, it was clear that a number of them had traveled to pay their respect to the late sheriff.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., attended the ceremony and said that he did not know Nobles personally, he did know his wife and son Craig.
“You can tell a lot about a man through his family and through his community, and I can tell from this gathering, he was a great man,” Carter said.
Also attending the ceremony were other law-enforcement officers from the area who had worked with Cecil Nobles. Georgia State Trooper William Bowman said he always respected the late sheriff.
“Sheriff Nobles was very respected by other law-enforcement agencies in this area and other areas,” Bowman said. “He valued what the patrol did in Long County and always encouraged us to be a part of the community in ways like visiting the schools and by setting up stops. I personally value his wisdom and am glad that he was always willing to offer it to me.”