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County loses ‘extraordinary gentleman’

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

“Pulaski County lost a great man with the passing of Frank Conner. He was truly an extraordinary gentleman,” Joe Sheffey said Friday of the death of the former sheriff and community servant.

Frank Roosevelt Conner, who served as Pulaski County Sheriff from 1978 to 1991, on the county board of supervisors for 16 years, and in many other public capacities died early Thursday at his Dublin home. He was 86.

Sheffey, a former board of supervisors chairman who was recruited to the board by Conner, said he always had great admiration for Conner. They first became acquainted when Conner, a deputy at that time, would stop by Sheffey’s home to speak with his father, a pastor.

“He would talk with daddy about what was going on and ask what he could do for the community,” Sheffey said. “He impressed me because he was such a caring individual. He and my father became very close.”

Years later, when Sheffey joined the staff of New River Community College, Conner stopped by one Friday afternoon to encourage Sheffey to run for Cloyd District representative on the board of supervisors.

“He said he was a member of the Democratic committee that was looking for someone to run for Cloyd District. I told him I didn’t really see myself in that position. I had never even been to a board meeting,” Sheffey said. “Saturday morning, Cornell Clark, president of the NAACP at that time, came by and said, ‘Joe, have you ever thought about running for the board of supervisors?’”

Sheffey said he was surprised to have back-to-back requests, so he decided to at least find out what it involved. He attended meetings three to four months and decided to “give it a try.”

Although Sheffey lost his first bid, his second run proved to be the charm. “I had no idea I would do that seven more times,” he added.

So, when Conner decided not to seek re-election to sheriff, Sheffey took the opportunity to turn the tables on Conner and recruit him to represent Massie District.

“I approached him and reminded him about the time he came recruiting me to the board. I told him I represented a committee and I thought he would make an excellent candidate for the board of supervisors.

“He kind of smiled and asked me how many people were on that committee and I said, ‘A lot of people,’” Sheffey recalled.

In earlier years, when Sheffey inquired as to why Conner thought he would be a good candidate for the board, Conner pointed out Sheffey was well-known in the community.”

When Conner asked Sheffey why he should run for the board, Sheffey returned the comment by pointing out Conner was well known in the community.

“Frank Conner always loved Pulaski County and the people. He always wanted to make it a great place to live and work,” Sheffey said. “Some the areas he was always concerned about funding was education, recreation and roads. He also was concerned about county staff and making sure when we had good people we paid them enough to keep them.”

After the historic courthouse was destroyed by fire, the board of supervisors recruited Conner and Max Baker to serve as the voices of a second effort to pass a referendum to rebuild the courthouse. The first referendum failed by a single vote.

Sheffey said that close vote prompted Conner to stress to citizens the importance of voting. With Conner and Baker representing the second effort, he said, “the second referendum passed considerably.”

If Conner felt there was a need for improvements, Sheffey added, “He would speak up about it. He’s one person I’ll never forget.”

Another initiative Conner was behind was creation of a quarterly county Pulaski County Citizens Newsletter that is sent to citizen in utility bills.

“He was always a visionary,” said Sheffey. “He felt it was important to let the citizens know what we (the county and board) were doing and planned to do in the future.”

Sheffey said Conner was behind improvements made at the old sheriff’s office near Madison Avenue in Pulaski over the years, but he also recognized that building eventually had served its purpose and a new location was needed.

After the former Verizon building on Route 99 became available, the county purchased it for the sheriff’s office. To honor Conner and his years of service to the community, a room in the new office building was named for Conner.

Over their years of traveling about the state with one another, Sheffey became aware that Conner was well known outside the county, as well. “He had the kind of personality where everyone knew him across the state — not just as sheriff, but just as a great guy.”

Due to their years of friendship and service together, Conner’s family has asked Sheffey to speak during Conner’s funeral service Wednesday. He said he was honored the family asked him to speak about his long-time friend.

Conner’s predecessor in the sheriff’s office, former Sheriff Jim Davis, said he was saddened to learn of Conner’s passing.

“I was fortunate to have worked with Sheriff Frank Conner in the sheriff’s office and later had the honor of working for him when he was elected sheriff,” Davis said. “We served a number of years together on the board at New River Valley Regional Jail, where he continued his service to his county.

“His dedication and love for his county, the law enforcement community and its citizens never ceased to amaze me. Sheriff Conner was an excellent example as a law enforcement leader and representative of Pulaski County,” he added.

For additional information on Conner’s service to the community, see his obituary on Page A2.

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