COVINGTON, Ga. — The man considered to be the oldest working peace officer in Georgia died Wednesday, Aug. 5, serving Newton County.
Jack Simpson died at age 96 after working more than a half-century in the law enforcement profession — including the last 20 years with the Newton County Sheriff's Office.
"With great sadness, we announce the passing of one of our own, Investigator Jack Simpson No. 966," the sheriff's office said on its Facebook page.
"Simpson has served in the law enforcement profession for more than 50 years. He served as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 20 years, the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office for 10 years, and the Newton County Sheriff’s Office for 20 years.
"Please keep his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers during this time of loss."
Sheriff Ezell Brown said he believed Simpson was the oldest peace officer still working in Georgia.
Simpson was a veteran of World War II who was in the invasions of Anzio in Italy and southern France.
He began his law enforcement career in Arlington, Va., as an auxiliary policeman. He then spent 23 years in the FBI working as a special agent.
Simpson was with the FBI during the Civil Rights Era and was called to Athens after Lemuel Penn was murdered, according to a 2015 profile of Simpson in The Covington News.
Penn was an educator from Washington, D.C., who was traveling back to Fort Benning and passed through Athens at the time when the Ku Klux Klan was out in white robes trying to prevent the integration of The Varsity restaurant, Simpson said.
"They were standing in the street and saw three blacks with tags from Washington, D.C., and one of them said, 'There goes one of President Johnson's boys.'" Simpson told The Covington News.
"They thought they were outside agitators coming through town and they followed them out of town and one of them stuck a shotgun out the window, pulled the trigger and killed Lemuel Penn."
He said he learned the information from not only being one of the investigators on the case, but also being in the questioning room with Penn's murderer.
"I was lucky enough to get the confession that broke that case," Simpson said. "I'm listed on the FBI's most famous cases and in the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington, D.C., tor that case.
During his time with the FBI Simpson also traveled with Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to confront Gov. George Wallace at the University of Alabama when Wallace refused to allow Black students to enroll.
Simpson also was one of the agents who searched James Earl Ray's car after he assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
He came to the Newton County Sheriff's Office after serving as bailiff for former Rockdale Superior Court Judge Clarence Vaughn, who personally requested the retired FBI special agent after a new circuit was created in the county. When Vaughn retired, Simpson went to work in the newly opened judicial center in Newton County.
He told The Covington Newsin 2015 he passes on the wisdom earned through working all those cases to deputies at the sheriff’s office.
"That's one of the thrills of being an old-timer," Simpson said. "You're able to mentor some of the younger officers. You offer what you can and hopefully it will be helpful to them."
Simpson said he still wanted to contribute and serve his community and continue to work as the state's oldest, certified on-duty peace officer.
"I'm hoping to serve as long as I can," Simpson said. "I enjoy making my contribution to society. I still don't want to rust sitting on my porch."
Brown said Newton County residents and the law enforcement profession “benefited from his intellect, skills, and perseverance” during the 20 years Simpson spent with the sheriff’s office.
“Some may have asked when he was going home,” Brown said, in reference to questions about why Simpson remained a sheriff’s office employee.
“I have known Mr. Jack Simpson for more than 45 years, so I ask, ‘How old is too old?’ Wisdom cannot be sacrificed for the sake of public opinion,” he said.
“Mr. Jack Simpson set the tone for the women and men who clocked in and out of our office every day. He showed up, did his job, and made sure that his fellow officers represented our profession.”
Brown said Simpson “helped us garner much from the past and helped us look forward to an even richer future.”
“He actually lived the history that most of us read about in textbooks, and we are blessed that he freely shared it with us,” he said.
“Many citizens, upon hearing of his passing, shared the joy that they experienced in every conversation with him. We are all better because we came in contact with this ‘giant of a man.’ He will be sorely missed, and we will feel the void of his passing.”