“Don was one of my best friends, but then again he was best friends with a lot of people. Everything he did was oriented toward one goal, and that was to be a best friend to everybody. When he became sheriff, what was most important to him was that he loved people…and being able to help somebody that nobody else would help.
“It didn’t matter who you were—black, white, rich, poor—it was his calling to help people and that’s what he did. Now, he could be tough. If someone was on the wrong side of the law, he was the first to set them straight. But he was always there. He’d show up and say, ‘let’s go to lunch’ and the next thing you know we’d end up in Claxton, because he just wanted to ride and talk.
“I think his legacy as a sheriff is that he was there day and night, 24/7. It didn’t matter what it was, he was there.”
“The relationship between him and I was really great. I worked with Don for years. He was a great sheriff, and he was a true friend. I would call Don and I knew he could call me back in two minutes. Liberty County is going to miss him, and I know I will miss him.”
“His door was always open to me. Whether you agreed with him or not, he was always willing to talk—whether he agreed with you or not, he was always willing to talk. He was a wonderful guy. I am very, very, very sorry he’s gone. He will be remembered fondly.”
“I’ve known him all his life…I learned to really love Don when we were both in the hospital. He’s a real fine person and he did an admirable job—he was a very admirable sheriff.”
“He had a talent for picking out good staff, deputies and other staff. He was a strong believer in law and order, and he had a great interest in suppressing the illegal drug trade in Liberty County.”
“I’ve known him ever since he’s been sheriff. He asked me to work with him on several cases; we’ve worked as well as a team and it was a pleasure to be able to work with him.”
Looking for a little comfort, Liberty County Sheriff J. Don Martin’s family brought him home Monday under the care of hospice after being diagnosed with sepsis. On Thursday Martin died shortly after 8 p.m. surrounded by his family and friends at his Midway home.
He was 70.
Martin sustained severe physical injuries from a wreck in December. The injuries had him in and out of Memorial Health University Medical Center on different occasions, including two surgical procedures to repair his damaged leg.
While there were several periods when Martin showed progress, he was re-admitted to Memorial on May 21. According to journal entries made by Martin’s wife Polly, doctors discovered he was already battling the life-threatening illness.
Sepsis is spread through the bloodstream and attacks vital organs.
Martin was first elected sheriff in 1992 and was in the middle of his fourth term of service to the community that his family has said was dear to his heart. In 2001 he was Sheriff of the Year and also received a medal from the honorable order of St. Michael, signed by Ronald Regan. He was recognized for his fund raising contributions for the Georgia Sheriff’s Association Youth Homes and was chosen as Boss of the Year in 2002 by the Hinesville Officials’ Association of Public Servants.
“It is very unfortunate that we lost him,” county Commissioner Connie Thrift said. “Our prayers and condolences go out to the family. There is one thing I’ll always remember about the sheriff. I never heard anything negative come out of his mouth. He was always willing to work with the commissioners during budget processes, and willing to work with us in whatever we needed to help the county and the finances of the county. I always respected him for that. He ran one of the largest departments in Liberty County yet he always worked with us to save the citizens money. He was always a well thought of person within this community.”
Martin wasn’t always the sheriff. Before being elected he was a retired rural letter carrier, serving as first district president of Georgia Rural Carriers Association.
“A lot of people associate Don Martin with being the sheriff,” Eddie Walden, vice chairman of the Liberty County Commission, said. “But I’ll remember him for his involvement in the Methodist Youth Fellowship and his involvement with the Liberty County Recreation Department and the sports programs like football and baseball. That’s the Don Martin I want to remember.”
As a Bradwell Institute, Tiger Martin earned the nickname “Chitlins” by a reporter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and was considered to be one of the hardest running backs and toughest linebackers in the state. He served as the football team’s co-captain for two years. He lettered three years in the grid-iron sport, two years on the basketball court and one year in baseball and track.
He carried his love of sports to the community, volunteering as a football and baseball coach for six years at the recreation department. He gave to his alumni by serving as president of the Harvey Overton Bradwell Institute Booster Club for two years. During his leadership he brought in 300 members and organized refurbishing the fieldhouse and concession stand at Olvey Field. He helped the school build a new baseball field.
With his passing, County Coroner Reginald Pierce will act as sheriff as per Georgia Law.
It’s up to Liberty County Probate Judge Nancy Aspinwall to either appoint someone to fill the spot or allow Pierce to serve as interim sheriff until a special election is held.
“As soon as practicable, the judge of the probate court will appoint a qualified person to discharge the duties of office until the vacancy is filled,” Aspinwall said in a written statement to the Courier. The statement was not clear whether she would make an appointment.
“Until the interim appointment is made by the probate judge, the coroner of Liberty County will act as sheriff. It is expected that a special election will be held to fill the vacancy in conjunction with the November general election. As the office of sheriff is partisan, candidates in the special election will be listed on the ballot according to party affiliation. The person elected at the special election shall hold the office of sheriff for the unexpired term of his predecessor.”
Pierce said he will work closely with Chief Deputy Keith Moran to keep the department running smoothly. He commended the chief for all the dedication and extra work he’s covered during the sheriff’s absence. Pierce said the focus, at this moment, should be to Martin’s family.
“We ask the community to keep them in their prayers,” Pierce said.
He said he would act as sheriff until someone is appointed or until an election, but would promptly return to his position as coroner, saying he could better the serve the public in that capacity.
Funeral services were Sunday at the Liberty County High School gymnasium. There will be more about the service in Wednesday's Coastal Courier.
Expecting a huge turnout from the Law Enforcement community, Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said his department moved officers in to help keep the public safe.
“Some of our guys volunteered to go to Liberty County to assist them in riding calls while their units are attending the funeral for Sheriff Martin,” he said. “
“He’s a heck of a good guy. I get cold chills thinking about it. When I came into office in 2002, Sheriff Martin and his chief deputy were instrumental in helping me get my feet on the ground. I came in like the new sheriff is going to have come in over there and pick up. At any time I could call him or his chief deputy and they were Johnny on the spot helping us. He was a good family man and a good Christian man. I’m going to miss him. He was a heck of a super guy.”