The end of an era for Sheriff J.B. Smith

Published: Dec. 31, 2012 at 9:08 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2013 at 9:19 PM CST
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TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Thirty-six years: that's long time at one job. Most of us change careers a couple times during a stretch of nearly four decades.

But not J.B. Smith; he's been Smith County Sheriff since 1976, and now he's stepping down. The last day of 2012 is his last day, and since his office is empty now, we caught up with him at the Smith County Historical Society where he was donating some memorabilia from his time as sheriff.

It's hard to believe his shift is over. When you think of law enforcement in Smith County, Texas, you think of Sheriff Smith. The names have been synonymous.

"I've had an absolute ball," said Smith. Even the bad times were good. I have no regrets. I do have one: I wish I would have stopped to savor the moment. I wish I would have spent a few extra moments and maybe even thought about what I was involved in because I had a Dallas Morning News reporter say all crazy roads lead to Tyler."

Some of the crazier incidents involved alcohol inside the jail. Enterprising prisoners would save up their fruit.

"They would put it in the commodes, put granulated sugar on top of it, and what do you have in seven days? You have commode wine. I guess it would go good with baloney and cheese, and probably has a real tang to it," the Smith recalled.

There was also the time when prisoners got drunk on mouthwash, maybe to kill the taste of that wine.

There were exciting moments, too.

"My cook would get drunk, we'd put the cook in jail, and then I had to get up at three o'clock in the morning and cook for 100 prisoners. That was exciting. That was almost the equivalent of being in a high speed chase because I didn't know what I was doing," Smith revealed.

His jail held many types of people over the years.

"We've had plumbers, electricians, we've had painters, and I've even had some doctors," Smith said.

He worked unimaginable crimes and over 130 murders during his watch, including two of his own men.

For the good of the department, he tried to hire the best.

"Teddy Roosevelt said in 1901 a successful administrator surrounds himself with intelligent people, points them in the direction they need to go and then leaves them alone, and I've done that. I laughingly tell people I couldn't track a bleeding elephant in the snow, but I've got good people that can, and that's what it's all about," Smith stated.

The Smith County Historical Society will house many of his memories. A Smith County Sheriffs room is being kicked around.

"I think I've added value to the public in Smith County. They have believed in me. They have re-hired me every four years for 36 years and I am deeply grateful for that," He concluded.

Sheriff Smith's next trip to the Smith County courthouse will be as just J.B.

Are there other politics in his future? Smith says he'll never say never.

There will still be a Sheriff Smith running the department. Larry Smith will be sworn in as Sheriff January 1.

Copyright KLTV 2012. All rights reserved.