It was 11 years ago. Butch Howard was hoping to win his first term as Lowndes County sheriff. NBC had just bought the First Federal Bank in Columbus, and Pat Tuggle, originally from Tuscon, Ariz., was working as a teller.
“Not many people were excited about the change,” recalled Tuggle, whose head teller was Howard”s wife.
One day Howard was going through the drive-through at the bank, and Tuggle was the teller at the window.
“If I get elected, I”m going to need a good person to help out my secretary,” Howard told Tuggle, who had glowing reviews from his wife.
Howard was elected in November, and Tuggle was hired as an administrative assistant in his offices in December.
“When I got hired, they told me I was a go-to girl. I go to wherever I”m needed,” Tuggle laughed. “I have found that to be true.”
Initially, it was a stressful and difficult transition.
Eleven years later, Tuggle enjoys her work, especially being able to help people. And for the past nine years, her husband, Eugene, also has worked at the sheriff”s office, as a transportation officer.
“We both come to work at 8. We leave together at 5, and we see each other at different times throughout the day,” Tuggle said.
What was hardest for you when you first started?
Just hearing about all the abused children. I had a hard time grasping that. I went home crying every day.
I asked Uncle Bunky, ”How do you do it?”
He said, ”This is my job. I have to do it.” He said, ”Don”t let this get to you.”
Eventually, it started getting better.
In your position, you are aware of just about all the arrests in Lowndes County?
Is that stressful?
No. I”ve learned not to judge.
What is a case that has stood out to you the most?
Well, it wasn”t a case. This guy committed suicide here (in jail), and I had sat in with him because he needed someone to be with him. He was talking to his mother.
To come to work the next day and hear he had committed suicide, it was a hard time. I wondered was there something I could have done or said. He had been to jail before and was going to have to go back to jail. It was for like three years, but I guess he just didn”t want to go back.
Does looking over the felony arrests every day bother you?
That”s a job. I look at it like that, and I”m like, ”Lord, help them.” If it gets to me, when I got to church on Sunday, I just ask can we put this person on the prayer list — not stating what they did, just asking prayer for them, their families, the victims.
What do you do to relieve the stress?
I play gospel music. If we were at my desk right now, you would hear gospel music playing. It”s a blessing to be able to read my Bible and play gospel music.
Once someone gets arrested and that runs in the paper, it seems they might as well already be convicted. Does it seem that way to you?
Yes. But people need to realize, just because you are arrested doesn”t mean you are guilty. There is still the grand jury and a trial. And even then, they might not be guilty. I”ve (realized) that — innocent people do go to jail.
Do those innocent people have a hard time in jail?
Not always. I run across the trustees and they”re like, ”You know, I didn”t do anything.” Some of them, they are witnesses for Christ, and God has to have people (teaching) everywhere, so I just look at it that way.
What is it like working with your husband?
It”s an adventure. I tell him he can”t be my boss at work because I have a boss here.
What are your thoughts on Sheriff Howard retiring?
I”m sad. He”s been the only sheriff I”ve worked for. I don”t know how I”m gonna handle that. … But the new sheriff can hire and fire at will. So if he has someone else he wants for my position, I plan to move back to Tuscon.
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