DOBSON — From his work on the streets of Winston-Salem to his duty as a local government administrator, Josh Smith’s life has been about one thing: Service.
Smith, 31, who serves as town manager of Dobson, moved to North Carolina from his native Pennsylvania when he was “very young.”
Growing up in the Kernersville area, he graduated from Glenn High School in 2000, and shortly thereafter became a member of what he jokingly calls the “Appy State Mafia.”
“I graduated in 2004 with a degree in criminal justice, then went back to graduate school part-time while working with the Winston-Salem Police Department to receive a master’s degree in public administration,” he said late last month.
And it didn’t take him long to notice the difference between undergraduate and graduate school, he noted with a laugh.
Saying he went from a classroom environment where tests are taken to graduate school where “you have to read 300 pages a night and write 40- to 50-page papers,” Smith said, acknowledging those years were challenging.
“It was tough going back to school part-time while raising a family with two young children and working as a patrol officer in east Winston,” he said. “It was definitely very difficult.”
But for Smith, it was a challenge worth pursuing.
“I’ve always felt the need to advance both myself and my career,” he said. “I like local government and the service-oriented aspect of local government, and decided that public administration was the right direction for me. If I was going to be able to achieve that goal, I was going to need a master’s degree to do it.”
That sense of serving his fellow man also prodded him into his initial law enforcement career.
“I can’t stand bullies,” he said with a small grin. “I believe there are people out there without the ability to defend themselves and need someone to do it for them.
“I enjoy helping people and standing up for the little man.”
Smith said everyone needs someone in their corner at some point in their lives, and being in law enforcement gave him that satisfaction of being there for others.
“There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life,” he said. “It’s just a personal satisfaction.”
He initially joined the Winston-Salem police force in 2005 after graduating the police academy shortly after completing his undergraduate degree.
Smith served as a patrol officer until a fateful day that he said he will always remember.
That day was Feb. 1, 2006.
“I was on duty on the night shift when I was escorting an armed robbery suspect who had been committing numerous armed robberies across the city,” he said. “I was escorting him to Forsyth Medical Center for evaluation before incarceration.”
While at the hospital, the suspect’s handcuffs were loosened in order for an x-ray to be taken for a gunshot wound sustained during one of the previous robberies.
“He escaped custody,” Smith said matter-of-factly. “I gave chase to him, and in the process of chasing him down I jumped off a wall and broke my left leg.”
The wound left Smith lying on the ground with both his tibia and fibula protruding through his skin.
“It was a pretty nasty injury,” he said.
Three surgeries and eight months later, Smith was allowed to return to work on light duty.
“I was off full duty for a whole year,” he said.
As a result of the injury and as recognition for courageous action in the line of duty, Smith was awarded the Medal of Distinction by the department.
But that drive to advance had never left Smith.
“After coming back to full duty I went back out on patrol for another couple of years on the night shift,” he said. “Then I found there were openings in the Criminal Investigations Division and I applied for a detective’s position.”
Noting the “long process that involved a lot of interviews and testing,” Smith was selected as a detective in the fall of 2009.
During his tenure as a detective in Winston-Salem, Smith worked in the juvenile victims crime unit.
“We investigated crimes in which children are victims,” he said quietly. “There was a lot of child abuse, rape and sexual abuse.”
Smith noted that even the most jaded detectives have trouble handling those type of cases.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You kind of can’t help putting yourself in their shoes a lot of times. You imagine they were your children. There was a lot of restraint needed, but then again there’s nothing more gratifying than locking up a suspect who harms children in any way.”
During his tenure as a detective, Smith heard about the opening in Dobson from an old classmate, Robin Testerman. Testerman now serves on the town’s Board of Commissioners.
“She went to school with me at Appy State,” he said, “and mentioned there was an opening.”
A few interviews later, Smith was hired and moved himself, his wife Monica and children Kylie, 6, and Dakota, 3, to Dobson.
“I love it here,” he said from his office. “I get to help the community as a whole, and I have the ability to improve the entire town.
“To be able to be a part of that is very gratifying.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.