As of Wednesday, Dolph Bryan had all but emptied the shelves of the office he will soon leave.
Several decades of editions of the Mississippi Code, a few binders of anti-terrorism protocol and other items of use to Bryan’s successor remained. Gone were the model cars, award plaques and pictures of days gone by.
Leaning against one wall near the shelves was a glass pane bearing his name and an image of his badge. Bryan said the pane had adorned the front door of the Oktibbeha County Jail on the west side of Washington Street ever since its construction in 1992. He said he plans to take the pane home and have it installed in a door to his den.
“I’ve got about everything out of here,” Bryan said. “After today, I’ll have it empty.”
Bryan will end 36 years as Oktibbeha County sheriff when Steve Gladney takes office Jan. 2.
In honor of Bryan’s total of 39 years of service to the county, including three years as deputy sheriff, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman issued a proclamation on Dec. 21 declaring Thursday, Dec. 29 as “Sheriff Homer Dolphin Bryan Jr. Day.” Wiseman said Bryan has been sheriff since before he was born in 1980, and he felt the proclamation was an appropriate and significant way to honor the lifetime of public service Bryan has offered Oktibbeha County.
“He is certainly an icon in our community,” Wiseman said. “He has served us with great dignity and distinction and with much personal sacrifice. It’s a wonderful opportunity for our community to offer recognition for a career well served.”
A reception in Bryan’s honor will also be held at the Shrine Club at 1769 Louisville Street from 4-7 p.m. Friends, family and citizens of Oktibbeha County are invited, and no RSVP is necessary.
Bryan said he first decided he wanted to be sheriff as a child, hearing about his grandfather’s life as sheriff of Clay County from his father. Bryan said his father was also good friends with Sheriff J.C. “Red” Kellum, who took Bryan on as deputy sheriff from May 1973 until his resignation in 1976.
The county held a special election for a sheriff to take Kellum’s place, and Bryan won. Bryan’s chief deputy, George Carrithers, said he met Bryan the same morning Bryan found out he had been elected. Carrithers happened to be on his way to the county jail with an application for the department, he said, and Bryan hired him not long after they met. He has served with Bryan for all his 36 years.
“Over the years, we’ve gone from strangers, to employer and employee, to friends,” Carrithers said. “Now, we’re as close as brothers are.”
Bryan said several of his employees have been with him for a number of years. For instance, he said, Chief Jailer Ed Blasingame, who retired in November, worked with Bryan for more than 20 years. Commander Robert Elmore, he said, has worked with him for about 25 years. He said his cook, Minnie Fox, retired last week after about 14 years.
However, Bryan said no one has stayed in his employ for long unless they have been willing to hold themselves to the same standards as he holds himself.
“I try to really be a kind person, and I encourage the people who work for me to be good to the people of this county and be respectful and treat them like your family,” Bryan said. “That’s worked very well for me. Being nice gets you more cooperation than being stern and demanding. You don’t have to be ugly and mean to people to get them to do what you want them to do.”
Carrithers said Bryan treats citizens like friends and employees like family, and he never meets a stranger.
“He can remember people’s names where I can’t even remember their faces,” Carrithers said. “Dolph is the kind of person where if you (had) a legal problem, you could see him. He would either help you or find you a place to get some help. He’d give you the shirt and his T-shirt off his back if he could help you. He treats (people) the way he’d want to be treated if he were in their spot.”
Bryan said he could only speculate why he was re-elected so many times.
“I hope it was because I was doing a good job,” Bryan said.
He said he had only one reason for running for re-election for so many years.
“I wanted to be sheriff,” Bryan said. “I’m not going home because I don’t want to be sheriff. My retirement check is actually larger than my paycheck, not (by) much, but (by) a few dollars. It’s not something I would have given up (for retirement pay). I wasn’t working for the money. I was working because I thought I was doing a good job for the community.”
Bryan said he intends to seek a new job in law enforcement after he leaves office. He may not start work the day after his term ends, he said, but he hopes to start within a month.
“All my friends come up to me and say, ‘Go home and take it easy; retirement is wonderful; I love it,’” Bryan said. “I’ve worked for a long, long time. I have had some offers, but I haven’t had time to consider them yet.”
He said he had nothing but respect for Gladney, his successor.
“He’s a good, honest, hard-working, Christian man,” Bryan said. “I’m not happy because I lost the election, but I’m not mad at Mr. Gladney for winning. I’ve always tried to be a good winner, so I had to try to be a good loser. It was harder, but I know I’ve got to go.”