ABINGDON, Va. — Twenty years after becoming sheriff of Washington County, Virginia, Fred Newman plans to replace his badge with a tractor — and possibly some camouflage gear.

“I’m 67 years old, and I’m in reasonably good health, so I feel like it’s time to get out,” said Newman, sitting in his Abingdon office recently. “Thirty-nine years in this profession is a long time. The job obviously has its stresses, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Newman, a 1971 Chilhowie High School graduate, is retiring from the law enforcement profession this week after announcing earlier this year that he was not running for reelection.

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Washington County (Virginia) Sheriff Fred Newman is retiring after 20 years as sheriff.

“It will be a change,” Newman said. “Going from the type of calls we had over the weekend, to not be able to respond to those calls, will be a change.”

Once he leaves office, Newman plans to head back to the farm he inherited, spend time with his family and hunt.

On the farm

While attending schools in Chilhowie back in the 1960s and 1970s, Newman helped out his family on the farm, where they raised hay, cattle, pigs and chickens. When he was 16, Newman said he also worked at the Marion Bottling Co. and Marley Mouldings.

After graduation, Newman attended Ferrum Junior College in Virginia before transferring to East Tennessee State University.

Newman had intentions of becoming a teacher or a coach. He eventually decided to go into criminal justice, he said.

In 1975, Newman learned that jobs were hard to find due to the Vietnam War. He first returned to work at Marley Mouldings until he was hired at the Chilhowie Police Department, where he was paid $4,800 a year under a federal grant.

Then, in 1977, Newman joined the Virginia State Police and went to work in rural Bath County, where there were only three state troopers, a sheriff, two deputies and game wardens. Newman then requested a transfer and moved back to Washington County in 1981.

In December 1990, Newman decided to leave law enforcement and began working on his family farm, where he worked on fences, grew hay and operated a cow and calf operation, he said.

Newman said he enjoyed working on the farm, but in 1994, Newman ran into Fred Parker, the county treasurer.

“He put that bug back in my ear to do it,” said Newman, noting that Parker urged him to run for sheriff.

Newman first ran in 1995, but he lost the primary by 18 votes to eventual sheriff Kenneth Hayter. Then, for three years, Newman served as a patrol captain for Hayter.

During a firehouse primary in 1999, Newman won the primary, beating Hayter and later winning the general election against Bill Snodgrass.

Newman recalled taking office in January 2000, when many were concerned about the Y2K bug.

“I remember sitting in the office, the clock struck 12 and nothing happened, thank goodness,” Newman said. “I came back the next day, it was Jan. 1.”

Change and accomplishments

Over the past 20 years, Newman has incorporated many changes at the Sheriff’s Office, which serves one of Southwest Virginia’s most populated and traveled counties.

In the beginning, the sheriff also managed the county jail, but in 2005, it was transferred to the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority. The sheriff’s headquarters in downtown Abingdon also moved out to the Porterfield Highway, where the current office stands.

Also, in 2004, the Sheriff’s Office took over the animal control department, which operates a shelter. Before Newman began managing the operations, the county administrator ran the animal control department.

Animal control officers now respond to calls seven days a week, Newman said.

In 2006, the Sheriff’s Office became an accredited agency for the first time, becoming one of four in Southwest Virginia. Other accredited agencies including the Bristol Virginia Police Department, Wise County Sheriff’s Office and Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office.

Being accredited means “your agency is operating at a high level of efficiency,” Newman said.

“It takes a lot of work,” he added. “It’s something that you work on almost daily.”

Agencies in Virginia are accredited every four years, and the Sheriff’s Office has remained accredited since 2006. The accrediting agency thoroughly reviews the department’s records, policies and procedures.

Newman is also proud of the addition of school resource officers in every school. In June 2018, Newman worked with the county Board of Supervisors and the School Board to add six school resource officers.

“There’s nothing more important than the safety of our faculty, staff and students in our schools,” Newman said. “I think putting a school resource officer in there has made a big impact.”

The Sheriff’s Office and Abingdon Police Department now have an officer in every school facility in the county.

Newman also notes the importance of the “Once a Day, Everyday” program, which was implemented in 2012. After the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook School, Newman said the superintendent approached him about protecting the schools.

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With retiring sheriff Fred Newman seated in the front row, Washington County Sheriff-elect Blake Andis is sworn in at the Washington County Courthouse.

In response, Newman created the new program, which allows officers to visit schools every day. Now, Newman said an average of four to five checks are made a day at county schools. Officers go in, walk around and sign a log book.

Newman said he regularly visits Greendale Elementary School, Cornerstone Academy and Abingdon Elementary School.

The sheriff credits his staff for the accomplishments made over the last 20 years. But while much has been done, Newman said there are always things that could have been done, such as eradicating the county’s drug problems. He noted, however, that three people have been added to the county’s narcotics division.

He also regrets not obtaining more funding for officers but said he has always had a good relationship with the Board of Supervisors.

“I always turn money back in to the county general fund,” Newman said. “I’ve been pretty fiscally conservative. We don’t spend money we don’t have.”


rsorrell@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2531 | Twitter: @RSorrellBHC | Facebook.com/robertsorrelltn

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