Remembering Sheriff Bright
By Billy Davis
If helping others were a campaign promise, then Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright fulfilled it.
In 2007 a floundering Como Police Department was serving the town, then mired in debt and teetering on bankruptcy, when Bright offered to provide deputies.
“Shot said, ‘Judy, we’ll keep the deputies there as long as you need them,’ which came at a time when we were falling off the edge,” Mayor Judy Sumner recalled.
“I can’t tell you all the things he did to help Como,” she said.
Bright was serving his first full term as sheriff when he died September 29 at age 50, shocking the community he served.
An investigation is well under way, led by the Miss. Bureau of Investigation, though Bright’s death appears to be from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities have said.
Funeral services were held Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Batesville Civic Center.
The late sheriff understood his role as a helper and kept busy coming to the aid of others, said Robbie Haley, a longtime administrative assistant at the sheriff’s department.
Haley said the sheriff’s calendar was filled with places to be every day – from a Neighborhood Watch meeting to a business mixer. Her role each morning was to write down the places and times.
“Everything I put on the list, he made,” she said.
Of everyone he helped, Bright reached out to children and the elderly most often, most likely because he never forgot those who helped him as a child, Haley said.
When the West Como Neighborhood Watch held its first annual picnic, Bright attended. He also provided soft drinks and ice, and rented an inflatable bouncer for the children.
Bright frequently attended town meetings in Como, including a night last December when he surprised Mayor Sumner with a Christmas tree.
The mayor was then serving without pay, and the sheriff joined an effort to present her with a “money tree” for the holidays.
“He knocked on the table with the gavel and said, ‘Hear ye, hear ye.’ It was a wonderful moment,” Sumner recalled.
She said Bright was also quick to listen on the several occasions when the rookie mayor sought advice about law enforcement for the town.
“You could always talk to him. He would always make time for you,” she said.
Como resident Renee Ward credited the late sheriff for assisting the West Como Neighborhood Watch, which formed in 2004 in response to growing crime.
Bright, who was then campaigning for office, promised residents they would see more patrol cars if he was elected. After Bright won office in 2005, the patrols increased and never quit, she said.
In fact, after Bright’s first election, the increased number of sheriff’s patrols across Panola County became the most recognized feat of the new administration.
Ward also witnessed Bright help Crenshaw, where she serves as town clerk. When the police department was understaffed, sheriff’s deputies began patrolling the town.
“He was the sheriff for everybody,” she said, because Bright was concerned for the entire county.
Crenshaw Mayor Oscar Barlow said sheriff’s deputies Billy Lambert and Kelvin Taylor worked as volunteers when they ended their shift for the county.
“That is the caliber of people we have serving our community,” Barlow said. “And they were led by a man who would be the first to help out.”
Haley said the sheriff’s death will postpone by several months Law Enforcement Day, which had been started by Bright. It was set for Thursday at the sheriff’s department.
The annual event, now in its third year, has drawn law enforcement from Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. The public was invited this year for the first time.
“Shot saw it as an opportunity for law enforcement to network and come together as a community,” Haley said.
The close-knit community of deputies, detectives, investigators, officers, and state troopers did come together, a day earlier, to mourn the loss of one of their own.