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Posted: December 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Nichols bids fond farewell Friday after 39 years

Jennifer T. Long/

Sheriff Joe Nichols, right, accepts a memorabilia box from NCSO Lt. Mark Mitchell during his retirement party Friday evening at the historic Newton County Courthouse.

Friends, family and colleagues of retiring Sheriff Joe Nichols gathered Friday evening in the historic Newton County Courthouse to acknowledge his decades of service to local law enforcement and wish him well in the next stage of his life.

In a packed room with standing room only, well wishers watched prepared slide shows of Nichols in uniform through the years as well as the evolution of the county’s SWAT force, on which Sheriff-elect Ezell Brown served with Nichols on the first team.

Most who know Nichols know he is a man of few words and that was no exception Friday, as he allowed others to do to most of the speaking for him.

"They say the best way to keep from crying is laughing," Nichols said.

Then he invited NCSO Lt. Mark Mitchell to do his famous impression of him. Mitchell obliged, to the chuckles and applause of the audience.

"I appreciated the time you have let me be with you," Nichols said to the crowd. "I’ve stood in front of you for a long time and I appreciate each one of you, but there are people who have sacrificed more than I have.

"God gave me the best wife and four great children."

Nichols then asked his family to join him on the podium and then stepped away, asking the audience to applaud them for standing beside him for so many years. After the applause died down he approached the lectern and simply stated, "I’m through."

Mitchell presented Nichols with a special memorabilia box including his service weapon, which was engraved with the dates he worked for the NCSO. He then showed the audience a rendering of a street sign reading Joe Nichols Blvd., which will mark the driveway to the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.

Mitchell then opened up the floor to comments from the crowd.

"The men and women that you leave behind will carry a piece of you in their souls each and every day," said NCSO Cpl. Sammy Banks.

"We’ve been through some tough times together and some good times together," said retiring Newton County Coroner Bob Wheeler, "but the memories will last a lifetime."

Several others shared funny stories about Nichols or about how he helped them through hard times. Sheriff-elect Brown was the last to speak.

"My friend, nothing could have prepared me for this moment," Brown said. "We’re going to miss you, but I know this is not retirement, this is just the beginning of a new career for you."

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