Ex-Sheriff Wise Dies; Called 'Quiet, Humble'
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
Retired Sheriff James Wilson Wise, a man whose character lived up to his name, died Thursday at his home in Aberdeen. He was 89.
Wise was a former Pinehurst chief of police and served a term as president of the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association.
He was sheriff of Moore County from 1981 until his retirement in 1997.
"He was a good man," current Sheriff Lane Carter said. "He was one of the best men I've ever worked for. He was good to everybody."
Former Sheriff Frank D. Johnson, who served as Wise's chief deputy from 1985 to 1987 and then replaced him, added, "He was an excellent boss man."
Both men praised Wise for his expertise in law enforcement, for his down-to-earth concern for people and his strict adherence to moral principles.
Carter, who was chief deputy under Johnson, said Wise led by example and always worked with his staff. He said he admired Wise for the calm, methodical way he went about law enforcement.
"He was always calm," Carter said. "He never got excited about anything. He always told us to think carefully about everything we were doing, and we found that his way worked best."
Johnson said he visited Wise on Wednesday, the day before he died. Johnson said he knew Wise long before he came to Pinehurst. His first association with Wise was in his days with the Hamlet Police Department, when Johnson was a State Bureau of Investigation agent.
"He was a good friend," Johnson said. "Sheriff Wise was a mighty good person, not just in law enforcement, but all the way around. We will miss his wisdom and kindly, humble ways."
'Quiet, Humble Man'
Susan McCrimmon, a retired major with the Sheriff's Department, worked with Wise from her rookie days as the first female officer in the Pinehurst Police Department. She moved with Wise to the Sheriff's Department, where she continued to serve as his office deputy and assistant.
"He was like a father figure to me," McCrimmon said.
McCrimmon said that Wise was devoted to his wife, Odessa, and for years after her death, he traveled to her gravesite in Rockingham every Saturday. In later years, when his health was failing, McCrimmon drove him to Rockingham for the weekly visits to the cemetery.
"He was easy-going, but he could be tough when he had to be," she said.
McCrimmon described him as a man who remained calm and always had a calming influence on those around him.
"And he was one of the truly honest people," McCrimmon said.
Tim Lea, chairman of the Moore County Board of Commissioners, called Wise "a dear friend and guiding light in my life."
"When I heard comments concerning Sheriff Wise, it was always in the context of someone with extreme loyalty, integrity, character and wisdom," Lea said. "His love of family, friends and his country is unparalleled. He was a quiet, humble man who always found positive ways to get things done. He was respected by all who came in contact with him and he was considered a friend by many."
Wise was a member of Lea's first campaign committee and remained active in subsequent campaigns on Lea's behalf.
"My life is better for having known the sheriff," Lea said. "He would always end our conversations, and I quote 'Everything will be all right,' regardless of the topic," Lea said. "He often said 'the truth will always overcome those who misrepresent the truth. The Master knows all that we do and there will be a day when we are all called home and held accountable.'"
Wise did not voluntarily enter the political life.
In fact, it was a scandal in the Moore County Sheriff's Department that led to his appointment as sheriff in 1981.
The previous sheriff, the first Republican elected to that office in Moore County in many years, abruptly moved out of state without giving notice to local authorities or the local Republican Party.
He was reputed to have left with an employee of the emergency communications system, and his wife, who remained in town, said he almost completely cleaned out their savings account when he left.
Moore County Republicans, aware of the respect Wise was commanding in Pinehurst, persuaded him to accept appointment to the office and promised to support him in the next election. In order to accept the offer, Wise was required to switch his political affiliation from the Democratic Party to the GOP.
He easily won the next election as the Republican Party began its sweep of local government. After that, he never lost an election and rarely attracted any serious opposition. He served four full four-year terms as sheriff.
One of the first changes the new sheriff made was introduction of an open-door policy, improving public relations and making the department more readily accessible to the constituency. He moved out into the public and worked closely with his deputies. Wise worked to achieve a modernized communications system and to secure new vehicles and equipment for the department.
A native of Clio, S.C., Wise attended public schools in Laurinburg and Rockingham and served in the U.S. Army. He is a graduate of the FBI Academy and began his law enforcement career "walking a beat" in Hamlet, where he worked his way up to assistant chief.
From there, he went to Pinehurst, working there eight years, during which he was elected president of the North Carolina Police Executives Association and president of the N.C. chapter of the FBI National Academy of Associates.
Wise was a 32nd degree York Rite Mason with Roman Eagle Lodge 550. His hobbies included listening to bluegrass music and traveling to Myrtle Beach every Thanksgiving to attend a bluegrass music festival.
His wife, the former Odessa McKenzie, died in 2002. They were married 62 years. They have three sons, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Funeral service will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. at Page Memorial United Methodist Church in Aberdeen with the Rev. Jane Leechford officiating. Burial will follow in Richmond County Memorial Park in Rockingham with military honors.
Visitation will be held tonight (Friday) from 6 until 9 at Boles Funeral Home in Southern Pines.
Lea said he would miss their weekly conversations concerning issues involving all aspects of life.
"I loved him dearly," he said. "I am glad he will have a chance to be with his wife again."
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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