PORTLAND — It was James Junior Proffitt who helped inspire Sheriff Keith Wood to run for Meigs County’s top law enforcement office.
Proffitt, who served as Meigs County sheriff from 1977 to 1984, passed away Feb. 5 at the age of 88. It was this loss of a friend and former colleague that moved Wood to reflect on the beginnings of his career.
In fact, it was Proffitt who first hired Wood into law enforcement in September 1978 as a dispatcher after seeing Wood’s desire to join law enforcement.
“He gave a lot of young people chances and opportunity for jobs,” Wood said. “I was one of those lucky folks that he got on the right track of life.”
And during his time under Proffitt, one thing that Wood picked up about the man was that he was strong willed and tough when it came to his expectations for his employees and how they represented his office — and the county.
“His years of military carried over into his expectations of us and what to look like,” Wood said, referencing Proffitt’s Navy career from 1945 to 1966. “It boosted our morale up as far as how we performed our duties.”
Wood said that along with attitude and professionalism, Proffitt’s expectations carried over into physical presentation as well. The deputies, who had a lighter, straw hat for summer and a heavier, felt hat in winter, were required to wear the felt hat year-round because it looked more professional. Wood also recalled a time when he returned to the office from the barber shop with an unsatisfying haircut.
“He says, ‘It’s too long. You need to go back and get it cut again,’” Wood smiled as he recalled. “He paid that for that second time. He really had that expectation of what he wanted you to look like, because you were an image of him out there, and I’m reaping that in this office. I think it’s carried forward today to me, and how I want my guys to look. I want them to treat people no different than what Jim taught me.”
Wood said Proffitt, who literally made a home out of the sheriff’s office, where he lived during his term, also made Meigs County a better home for all people during his term. In particular, Wood remembers Proffitt working with Meigs County’s homeless, and attempting to help those who acknowledged that they needed help, as opposed to punishing them.
“This was a place that wasn’t just a place for people to go to jail, but where you could get help,” Wood said. “No doors were shut; there was a compassion there, that he really truly cared about what was going on in his county. If he knew about those things (in the community), he’d go out and try to fix those things or correct the problem. He wasn’t just here for a job, he was on a mission.”
Wood said that each sheriff who takes up the seat in the office tries to leave the place better than he found it, and that Proffitt definitely succeeded on that front. He said he was able to visit Proffitt about a week before his passing, and said that while Proffitt was a tough employer, he truly loved his job and his life.
“He enjoyed having a good time, and enjoyed everyone (having) a good time with him,” he said. “He had so many stories, he was always laughing. He was a good man.”
Reach Lindsay Kriz at 740-992-2155 EXT. 2555