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Former Sheriff Paul Barrett dies

Published 11:07 am Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Longtime Warren County Sheriff Paul L. Barrett — a lawman whose legacy reached mythic proportions — died Tuesday. He was 88.

“He was a law enforcement legend in Mississippi. I could sit here all night telling Paul Barrett stories after working for him 15 years,” said Sheriff Martin Pace, who began working for Barrett in 1981. “He was one of the toughest, yet most caring lawmen I have known.”

For anyone questioning the breadth of the mark he made on local history, take a look inside the Warren County Sheriff’s Office where Barrett served eight consecutive terms as the county’s top law enforcement agent.

On the northeast wall of the entranceway where portraits of the county’s past sheriffs are displayed above plaques bearing their names and terms in office, Barrett’s simply says 1968 — with no end date attached though he left office almost two decades ago.

It’s as if he never left.

“He was very good at what he did,” his son Mike Barrett said. “He came from nothing. He started with nothing and built a career that just went leaps and bounds above what the average person would be able to accomplish.”

During his time in office, Barrett was president of the Mississippi Sheriff’s Association on several occasions, helped establish the Mississippi Sheriff’s Boys and Girls Ranch and won enough awards and accolades to fill multiple scrapbooks.

“It goes back so far that there’s no way I could put them all together in my head,” his wife of 64 years, Juanita Barrett, said of his awards.

He was also in the first crop of sheriffs whose duties were split from those of tax collector.

“That was the beginning of sheriff’s offices in Mississippi actually becoming law enforcement agencies rather than the old sheriff/tax collector,” Pace said.

One of 13 children, Paul Barrett was born in Leake County. His family moved to Yazoo County when he was a child and lived in a two-room sharecropper shack. He left home at age 16 “to make a better life and help his family,” Juanita Barrett said.

“He really enjoyed what he did for as long as he did it,” she said.

Friends, family and colleagues remember Paul Barrett as a kindhearted man, who would go out of his way to help the needy.

At Christmas, he and his deputies would pass out toys to children in the community, said Ford Emery, who started working for Barrett in 1986.

“He would go out and get all the Christmas presents for children who didn’t have anything. There were so many kids around here who weren’t going to get Christmas,” Emery said.

That act of kindness impressed Barrett’s son, even as a child.

“As a family, we by no means had extravagant Christmases, but he always found money and would load up his truck with presents. We would drive down to some of the underprivileged areas and hand them out,” Mike Barrett said.

Most residents also remember Paul Barrett for his tough side — chasing robbers and murderers throughout his career and holding a man by the ankles to keep him for jumping from the top of the Hotel Vicksburg in 1972.

“He was 100 percent law enforcement,” said retired Vicksburg police Sgt. Doug Arp. “He definitely made his mark on Warren County.”

On Tuesday morning, Barrett and Pace were reminiscing about a 1986 car chase on Interstate 20 into Louisiana.

“He remembered it with great clarity,” Pace said.

Those who worked under Barrett also remember him as a great teacher.

When Emery started at the Warren County Sheriff’s Department “I was just a kid and I didn’t know anything about law enforcement.”

“The majority of what I learned about this job, I learned from him — how to treat people with respect and compassion, how to help the community, how to work hard. I’m the man I am today because of him and my father. I hope the rest of my career I make them both proud.”

Barrett retired as sheriff in December 1995 after being convicted of perjury in federal court, and though he spent several years in federal prison, the community was almost always behind him.

“There are people today, that if Barrett was able to run for sheriff, don’t fool yourself, he would get some votes,” said Otha Jones, who worked for Barrett for 25 years.

Jones was chief deputy under Barrett and briefly served as interim sheriff after his retirement. Later, he worked as chief deputy for Pace.

“Had it not been for him, I don’t think I would be in my home retired at this point,” Jones said.

Services for Barrett will be 2 p.m. Saturday at Glenwood Funeral Home with visitation from 10 a.m. until service time. Burial will follow in Greenlawn Gardens.