The 2021 law enforcement appreciation luncheon held at the H.G. Yeomans Barn on Thursday, April 29, at 11:30 a.m. brought several special guests to town to honor the efforts of various agencies. Former Sheriff J. Tyson Stephens was ushered out of office in class as Emanuel County Sheriff Jeffrey Brewer was ushered in.
The event began with Sheriff Brewer thanking the various sponsors who made the event possible. He also gave a brief history of the sheriffs who have served Emanuel over the years.
According to his speech, seven sheriffs have served the county since 1932 to present. Payton Youmans served seven terms, spending 1932 to 1959 in office. He was followed by Josh Lewis, who served three terms from 1960 to 1968. Herman Jones then served almost two terms from 1969 to 1976. Edmond Curry was Emanuel’s shortest serving sheriff, spending just 67 days in the capacity to fill the void left by the passing of Jones on January 7, 1960 until a special election could be held. During that special election, James Mason won the position and served two terms from 1977 to 1984. Stephens followed and served nine terms from 1985 to 2020.
“Of the 88 years accounted for, we had two sheriffs to occupy over 50 percent of that time,” Sheriff Brewer said. “Together, they occupy 64 years in office: Payton Youmans with 28 years and Tyson Stephens with 36. Sheriff Stephens is one of the longest serving sheriffs in the state of Georgia, and he is our longest serving sheriff here in the county.”
Joining in the occasion that morning was Georgia’s longest serving sheriff, Cullen Talton of Houston County. He has been in office 48 years today.
One of the event’s hosts, Henry Terwilliger, spoke next. He talked about the luncheon’s original purpose and commended the law enforcement officials before him.
“It certainly is an honor to have all you folks here today. Our original purpose [of this luncheon] was to give back and let law enforcement know we appreciate what they do. We really respect what they do. That’s what we started it for, and we continue on.” He continued, speaking about his dear friend, “We’re also here to celebrate our illustrious past sheriff, J. Tyson Stephens. I love him like a brother. He’s always been a good counselor and a good friend.”
U.S. Representative Rick Allen from Georgia’s 12th Congressional District took the floor next. He presented a proclamation in honor of Sheriff Stephens after making his own personal comments about the value of police work. “To all our law enforcement in attendance, you exhibit every day what perfect love is: to to give your life up for another. Somehow in this country, we’ve gotten away from scripture and we’ve become a Bible-illiterate society, which has resulted in chaos. God is a god of order. We’re seeing chaos, which is totally against God and all the institutions God anointed… I want to tell you this: my daddy taught me that if someone of authority walked into a room and I didn’t stand up, he’d slap me upside the head. He was serious, and I guarantee I caught a lot worse when I got home if an officer had pulled me over and I had to tell Dad. But I guarantee I said, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” Somewhere, we’re missing that. We’ve got to return to that. Anyway, I did want to make sure we put this today in the congressional record. I rise today to celebrate Emanuel County’s longest serving sheriff, Tyson Stephens.”
That proclamation was filed Wednesday, April 28, 2021 and will remain in the house in perpetuity.
Georgia Senator Billy Hickman of District 4 as well as Senator Max Burns of District 23 then presented a resolution passed by the state senate in Stephens’ honor.
Next, Senator Butch Parrish of District 158 presented a resolution passed by the Georgia House of Representatives in honor of Stephens as well. He said to the former sheriff and the crowd, “On a personal note, when I first ran, Tyson was running his first time. We covered a lot of dirt roads together around here. He’s had a great career. To him, I just want to say thank you and congratulations. To his family, I just want to say thank you as well.”
TJ Hudson, former probate judge of Treutlen County currently campaigning for Georgia Secretary of State, came forward next and introduced his friend and supporter, Governor Brian Kemp. The two met on the campaign trail in Savannah years ago.
Following Hudson’s introduction, Governor Kemp gave a short address. He thanked both sheriffs, Brewer and Stephens, as well as the multitude of agencies who serve and protect at the local and state levels.
“First off, I have a few people I want to thank, starting with Sheriff Brewer for continuing to ping me and remind me about this event; I’m glad I could be here today. I’ve been a big fan of Tyson Stephens—not only him but his family as well. Sheriff, we appreciate your service. You’re a good man. You can see that through your family. I’ve certainly appreciated you.
“I also really want to thank all who are in law enforcement that are here today. It’s a tough time out there. It’s a tough time across our country. I want you to know that myself and my family have your back. We continue to fight for you every single day to make sure people just realize what you do and how dangerous it is. I want to thank your families and all those you’re serving with. A lot of us may never see it unless you walk through those back halls of a sheriff’s office or see or speak to someone sitting behind one of those desks. That’s the same for all our folks; I know I see some folks from the state patrol, the motor carrier division, the department of corrections, the board of public safety, the agricultural department in the crowd. We’ve also got GBI folks here today, I think some current and former DAs… Just a lot of other great people that are serving right now.
“Also, I can’t leave out any of our first responders, EMTs, those that’ve been on the front lines of COVID—doctors, nurses, and other people, healthcare heroes… I used to pray for our troops and I still do, but I’ve added healthcare folks in there because they’ve been on the front lines of this battle for over a year. I’m very appreciative to you all. We appreciate what you do. It’s been a tough year for everybody, and we’re grateful for you all.
“To the local elected officials and community leaders, thanks for supporting this event and supporting our law enforcement. We live in the greatest state in the country. I really believe that. We’ve been doing two things here over the past year: fighting to protect lives and fighting to protect livelihoods. That’s what we’re in the fight of our lives for right now. Thank you for your service. Thank you for the invite, and if we can be of any service, let us know. God bless you and be safe.”
In closing, Sheriff Stephens said a few words of his own. He commented about his career and what Emanuel County, along with its citizens, mean to him, saying, “Y’all know how much I love you and how much I love Emanuel County. I started out as a county commissioner and ran for sheriff in 1984. This place and all of you have been a blessing to me and my family. I had a good ride. I think God put me where He wanted me to be in my career, and I think He has put me where I need to be in my life.”
The former sheriff then introduced his children, grandchildren, and wife, Susan, thanking them for their support over the years.
Emory Fennell closed the slate of speakers, delivering a prayer to bless the food. The crowd then gathered for lunch prior to taking photographs.
All photos with this article are courtesy of Gambrell Photography.