Walker Marshall has watched Columbia County change during nearly four decades serving as a sheriff's deputy.
"I remember when there was no Kmart. It was a farm there," said the lifelong Columbia County resident, adding that he used to hunt on land now occupied by the West Lake and Jones Creek subdivisions. "I have seen some changes."
Everything has changed, Marshall said, including the sheriff's office he has served for more than 30 years. When Marshall was recruited by then-Sheriff Edward Tankersley to become a deputy in the early 1970s, Marshall said he joined the handful of deputies who protected the county.
"When I came out here (to the sheriff's office), I think it was 1972 or 1974, there wasn't anything out here," Marshall said. Back then the sheriff lived on the bottom floor and the jail and dispatch occupied the top floor of the brick building in Appling that now houses the Columbia County Historical Society, he said.
"There wasn't any more than five or six deputies that were taking care of the whole county from County Line Road in Harlem all the way back to the Richmond County line."
During his career as a road deputy, Marshall spent countless hours on the night shift roaming Columbia County in his car, armed with his badge, uniform and gun.
"All times of day and night ... I always have been on the road ... I love it out there," Marshall said.
It is the pride Marshall takes in wearing his badge and uniform and being seen in the patrol car that makes him an asset to the department and an ambassador for the sheriff's office, Sheriff Clay Whittle said.
"He, literally, truly does understand that every action he takes is a reflection on me," Whittle said, adding that he rode along on Marshall's beat when he started at the sheriff's office in 1984. "He fully understands that and he works every day to make sure that those reflections are nothing but positive."
Marshall said he took that responsibility especially seriously in his early years with the sheriff's office, when his stance as a black man in a position of authority was sometimes an issue.
"When I was out there doing my job, I didn't look at people by their color," Marshall said. "I looked at people as people, and I know all of us are God's people."
More than 10 years ago, Marshall took over handling civil issues such as subpoenas and divorces when the Records Bureau was formed.
Civil service kept him on the road until last fall, when rotator cuff surgery took him off the road completely. He had surgery in mid-November and is in rehabilitation to hurry back to work.
"I had to park my car in the parking lot up there and I thought that was the worst thing in the world that could have happened to me," Marshall said. "I can't go back now because I'm not in shape to go back. It bothers me now."
It is the interaction with the community that Marshall loves and misses about his job, said his wife, Gloria.
"He's a people person," she said.
In his more than 30 years of service, Marshall has served four sheriffs - Tankersley, Tom Whitfield, Otis Hensley and now Whittle - and the sheriff's office's two interim sheriffs - Burl Keen and Gloria Crosby.
"Anyone in the sheriff's office would do well to look at his character," Whittle said. "They don't make them any finer."
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