The funeral procession was the longest I’ve ever seen.
I took some pictures, walked to my car in the back part of the North Oxford Baptist Church parking lot, sat for several minutes before a police officer waived our row of cars on to go.
Some 20 minutes after the hearse carrying Lafayette County’s beloved Sheriff F.D. “Buddy” East left the church, the procession was still continuing to leave the church.
I was in the back, with only a few more vehicles behind me.
Along the route, Shivers Towing and the Oxford Fire Department had hung American flags over the roads which the procession drove under as it continued to Shiloh Cemetery. By the time my car reached those intersections, the flags were being lowered.
I didn’t mind being in the back. The hundreds of vehicles ahead of me were family, close friends and fellow law enforcement officers. I am just a reporter.
Buddy and I didn’t hang out socially. We didn’t play cards. We didn’t even speak all that often.
However, that didn’t diminish the respect I had for our sheriff.
When I first arrived in Oxford, I asked a local official how the county managed to keep strip clubs out of the county with no zoning.
“Have you met our sheriff?” the official said with a smile.
I hadn’t yet. I looked forward to it.
Soon after I received a phone call from the sheriff’s secretary.
“The sheriff would like to talk to you,” she said.
Walking into his office, I almost felt like walking into the principal’s office. I was nervous. I had heard so much about the man – he was fair, he was honest, he was tough.
There wasn’t much chitchat. He got down to business. He wanted me to do a story on a deputy who had gone above and beyond the call of duty.
Throughout the years, that happened a few times but generally, it was me calling him about something and he always returned my calls.
“This is Buddy,” he’d state simply. “What can I do for you?”
I saw him at each and every Supervisor’s meeting for years. A few times he couldn’t attend, but not many. He made time in his schedule to attend the meetings, not just for security, but to announce the meeting was starting.
“Oh yes, Oh yes, Oh yes (Sometimes he’d mix it up with ‘Hear ye, Hear ye, Hear ye,’) The meeting of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors has now come to order.”
That was it. But he still made sure he was there to do it. Such a small thing yet it showed the commitment the sheriff had to his county.
I wrote something for the paper once he wasn’t happy about. When I saw him a day or two later, he looked at me and turned away. I barely knew him, but my heart sank. He just had that kind of effect on people. You wanted him to like you. We spoke about it eventually and he even apologized. He said he knew I was just doing my job.
He understood what that meant – doing your job – better than most ever will. The man dedicated almost his entire life to law enforcement.
At his funeral Friday, I sat next to a black couple.
“Buddy treated all of us as equals,” the man said, nodding.
Those are strong words about a man who served as sheriff in a Mississippi town for more than 46 years, and during a time when the African-American community might not have trusted a white sheriff.
But everyone trusted Buddy.
Lafayette County mourns. But we will heal and the story of Sheriff F.D. “Buddy” East will be told in the history books and by the countless citizens whose lives he touched for decades to come.
By Alyssa Schnugg