Remembering a unique person and a unique year

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, December 31, 2016

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Doug Whitehead

DOUG WHITEHEAD. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

It’s impossible for me to remember the reason for the call or even the bulk of my first conversation with former Wise County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Doug Whitehead back in the summer of 2000, but I clearly remember how the conversation started.

Me: “Chief Deputy Whitehead, this is Brian Knox with the Wise County Messenger. I …

Him: “Knox?”

Me: “Yessir”

Him: “Knox, are you a Protestant?”

Me: “Uh… yes.”

Him: “Because you know you are in the Bible Belt.”

Me: “????????”

I can’t recall much of what was said after that, but I’m pretty sure I received some sort of quick lesson on the spread of Protestantism in this area before moving on to whatever crime-related information I was seeking.

Like many folks, I was caught a bit off guard by my first conversation with Whitehead, or “Doughead” as one of our former, longtime Messenger writers lovingly called him.

I would soon learn that Whitehead had one of those unique personalities that you don’t soon forget.

It was also clear he was one of the smartest persons in the county, and not just on religious history matters. His ability to recall details about a person, their family and other critical information made him a wonderful resource for the local law enforcement community.

He retired from law enforcement two years ago, but from what I hear, he kept in contact with his law enforcement family regularly.

On the last day of July this past year, Whitehead died.

I couldn’t help but think about that first conversation with Whitehead as I wrote his extended obituary story for the Aug. 3 issue of the paper.

That will definitely be one of the stories I remember most from 2016, but not the only one.

Covering the 2016 election was also memorable, even though our area lacked the “drama” we saw in other parts of the country.

We heard concerns about election machines “flipping votes” from Trump to Clinton. Those concerns were unfounded, and it was made clear when Trump carried Wise County by 83 percent.

One election-related item that did stand out to me was the lack of political signs dotting local yards. Usually in a presidential election year, you see them everywhere.

This year, they were in much shorter supply.

Perhaps it was because people weren’t thrilled with either choice in the November election, or they might have been concerned about what people might do or think if their neighbors knew which candidate they supported.

On the local level, the passage of the alcohol elections could have a significant impact on the local economy in the coming years, particularly in Decatur. It should make the city more attractive to restaurants looking to locate here. And hopefully that will lead to more people coming to town, spending money at other local businesses as well and strengthening the local economy.

So let’s raise a glass to 2016 to remember those we’ve lost and to look forward to even better things in 2017.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special projects manager.

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