The announcement came as a bit of a shock: Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson, who has spent 32 years working in the sheriff’s office in one capacity or another, was resigning his post.
The sheriff said on Wednesday that he had accepted a position on the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission, a post offered to him by Gov. Roy Cooper. He will remain as sheriff until April 28.
Atkinson will leave some big shoes to fill.
While many think of the sheriff as a law enforcement position, it can be an intensely political post, won by politicking to the right crowd, following trends and ignoring those who bring little to the table in terms of political support.
Atkinson eschewed that approach, largely taking politics out of the office. He was first elected to the post in 2006, when many of the county elected offices were held by Democrats. In the 11 or so years since, the county has shifted to a largely Republican-led county, with virtually every major office held by a member of the GOP.
Except for the sheriff’s post.
That’s because Atkinson was successful in reaching across party lines, in approaching his job while remembering he is sheriff for everyone, not just his party or his supporters. He has become known for treating everyone fairly and with equally, regardless of background.
That approach has won him the respect of individuals in both parties.
Atkinson was also responsible for starting the Give a Kid a Christmas program, which he began 27 years ago while working as a deputy. The more cynical might say that could have been a political move, but that would be so far off the mark. Atkinson, at that time still relatively new in his law enforcement career, simply saw a way to serve the community, giving kids from struggling homes a bit of something to smile and be joyous about at Christmas.
There are always detractors. Whenever we run stories about the sheriff or his department, we see complaints from individuals who say he doesn’t do enough to rid the county of drugs or other crimes, while seeing others complain in the same articles he focuses too much on drugs or certain crimes.
Then again, these are the same folks who generally complain about everything, spending their lives on Facebook without actually doing anything on their own in real life, while the sheriff has consistently led in establishing and maintaining a top-flight professional law enforcement agency.
He’s worked with schools to ensure those campuses are as safe as possible; he’s worked out in the community to build good relations between law enforcement and the general population; and we can say he’s always been among the most forthcoming, transparent public officials in the county when it comes to working with the media, even when it wasn’t easy or convenient to do so.
Surry County has been fortunate to have Atkinson working in the sheriff’s office for the past 32 years, and most fortunate he’s been the one at the helm of that agency for the past decade.
Now that he’s moving on to Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission, we know that organization will benefit greatly from his presence, but he will be missed here in Surry County.