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Nelson community remembers Bill Harris, 'a people's sheriff'

LYNCHBURG — A former Nelson County sheriff and Korean War veteran who also worked in the local timber industry recently was laid to rest.

William “Bill” Harris, a lifelong resident of Nelson, died May 31 at age 87. He served as sheriff for 20 years and previously served six years as a deputy, first taking the helm of the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office a few years after the devastation of Hurricane Camille that struck in the summer of 1969.

At 19, he joined the Navy and served during the Korean War, according to his obituary. He served eight years before his honorable discharge in September 1959, at which time he returned home to Nelson, where he lived the remainder of his life.

A logger who learned from his father, he worked in the timber trade until joining the sheriff’s office in 1965 and returned to the profession in 1991. He remained active in logging until his retirement at age 80.

Tommy Harvey, Nelson County Board of Supervisors chairman and the only current board member serving when Harris was in office, recalled the late sheriff as a well-liked officer.

“He was a people’s sheriff,” Harvey said. “He represented the county very well.”

After his first election in November 1971, Harris served five terms and was succeeded by Ronald Wood, of Piney River. Wood won a four-way race for the seat in 1991 and was re-elected for a third term in 1999 before his death that year.

Tom Berry, who has worked as an attorney in Lovingston for more than 30 years, recalled the short walk from the courthouse to the sheriff’s office in the mornings, when Harris would be making breakfast. “They always had a hot plate running,” Berry said, adding with a grin: “They always said, ‘There wasn’t an animal that wasn’t edible going across the Harris yard.’”

Berry described Bill Harris as a strong, visible leader in the community who worked hard to protect and serve others and “knew how to handle his business.”

“He looked out for a lot of people,” Berry said.

Harris’s wife of 60 years, Gloria Harris, and his son, William "Mike" Harris, preceded him in death. He is survived by three siblings, two grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He was a member of Ridgecrest Baptist Church.


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