By the Book: Former Deputy Tells All

Former Fairfield County Sheriff’s deputy Buddy Wilkes Jr. has put his experiences in law enforcement in writing.

CHAPIN – In October of 1981, Earl Douglas “Buddy” Wilkes Jr. was a newly minted Fairfield County Sheriff’s deputy. Just hours into his first day on the job, he realized that “for better or worse, people take notice of you when you’re wearing a lawman’s uniform.” His adventures and experiences during the next seven years as an officer of the law in Fairfield County could fill a book.

And now they have.

Wilkes’ recently published memoir, “The Way I Remember It – the Sheriff’s Office,” is a charmingly funny read.

The collection of anecdotes spans his years as a deputy, sergeant and captain in Fairfield County during the 1980s. The fast-paced, mainly humorous vignettes run the gamut, from a “haunted” Halloween jailhouse, to deer hunting misadventures, runaway prisoners and a stolen cash register recovered at the end of a trail of change. Every page contains a memorable character, including, he writes, “a likeable Yankee, one of the rare breed that didn’t know it all.”

While most of the book recounts Wilkes’ own experiences, several gems feature the adventures of co-workers, like the story about an officer dealing with a man driving very much under the influence of something other than alcohol. The Fairfield County patrolman noticed the fellow’s 280-Z sports car just off the shoulder of the newly finished I-77. As Wilkes tells it, the car was “stuck up to the axles in mud. [The officer] walked up to the driver’s window and saw that the guy was just driving and driving, motor running, wheels turning, but going nowhere in the deep, slick Fairfield County red clay.”

He tapped on the window to get the driver’s attention.

“The guy looked at the patrolman and panicked. He geared down and floored it, getting the Z car up to what he thought was warp speed. He looked out the window again, and when he saw the Patrolman still standing there, he totally freaked, put on the brakes, and surrendered.”

Wilkes, a Fairfield County native, graduated from Richard Winn Academy in 1977 and went on to earn a degree in English from the Citadel. He retired as a Fairfield County deputy in 1987 and hired on with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) in 1990. After 30 years in law enforcement, he now lives in Chapin with his wife, Tracey. He retired from SLED last year as a captain.

In his book, Wilkes paints a nostalgic description of rural Fairfield County, and the stories brim with ‘oh-wow’ glimpses of a long-ago world. The ‘80s was a time in Fairfield County when “common sense and a sense of humor were the most important attributes a lawman could have,” Wilkes writes. “Virtually every call we answered involved someone we knew or were kin to.”

“Fairfield County is in my DNA,” he said in a phone interview with The Voice.

But before Wilkes rolls out great stories of practical jokes, dispatch calls and courtroom comedy, he takes the reader all the way back to the beginning, to his first day on the job, recalling his trip to the “old school” haberdashery and uniform shop in Columbia to be fitted for his uniform. It was a “creaky old place [that] smelled just like it should, of woolen suits, leather and floor wax.” Then he headed out on his first call – a rookie deputy with an eye for the interesting and a penchant for memorable details of entertaining antics.

Already at work on his next book, Wilkes has tentatively titled it, “Driving Strom Thurmond.” It’s about his years at SLED and his experiences driving Sen. Strom Thurmond around South Carolina during Thurmond’s last Senate campaign in 1996.

“Many people don’t know that Thurmond actually created SLED in 1947 when he was governor,” Wilkes said.

“It was like driving Elvis Presley around,” Wilkes said with a laugh. “Everywhere we went, people knew him, and he knew them. We’d arrive in some tiny little town and he’d get out of the car and start calling people by name. It was quite an experience.”

Wilkes said it was a fascinating period of time and admitted, “I’m getting addicted to the research!”

He said he hopes to finish his new book by summertime. In the meantime, look for “The Way I Remember It…” on Amazon as an e-book or in paperback.

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