Remembering Sam 'Pokey' Gipson
A man described as a "legend" among local law enforcement is to be buried today at Old Rosemont Cemetery in Benton.
The graveside service for Sam E. "Pokey" Gipson will follow a 2 p.m. funeral at Ashby Funeral Home.
Gipson, 73, died Monday, Jan. 14, at his home in Benton.
He had had a lengthy career in police work, retiring from both the Benton Police Department and the Saline County Sheriff's Office.
Though he had been retired for several years, he continued to show an interest in civic matters through service on the Benton Civil Service Commission. He was a member of the panel at the time of his death.
Judy Pridgen, a former Saline County sheriff, served with Gipson on the commission and said Gipson took his commission responsibilities seriously.
"He loved being on the Civil Service Commission and really took everything to heart," Pridgen said. "He did a really good job and was very conscientious to do the very best he could for the city and for the police and fire departments."
Lt. Kevin Russell, public information officer for the police department, noted that Gipson was a member of the police force for 11 years, from 1983 to 1994, as both an officer and as senior detective at the time of his retirement.
"It was with a heavy heart that we announced the passing of one of our retired officers," Russell said earlier this week.
A former Benton police chief, Curtis McCormack, noted that he worked with Gipson at both the sheriff's office and the police department.
"We go back a long way," McCormack said of his association with Gipson. "We had many a good time together. He is a guy Saline County will miss. He was a legend.
"He was one of the very few people I worked with at both the sheriff's office and at the police department," he said. "We were at the sheriff's office under Joe Lee Richards (now a Benton alderman).
"He was a man of honor — a man of integrity," McCormack said of Gipson. "He was a joy and a pleasure to work with. If you were in a fight and got knocked out, when you came to, he'd be right there beside you."
McCormack recalled several humorous incidents that occurred during his service with Gipson.
"Mick Richards, Joe's dad, was also working for the county and he was trying to eradicate illegal dumping, so Mick would go out and dig through trash to look for names and addresses of people to turn in to the prosecuting attorney's office," he noted. "Mick and Pokey barely tolerated one another, but Pokey went with him one day," he said. ""All of a sudden Mick heard gunshots and felt dirt fly up from the ground hitting his pants leg. At first he thought Pokey had gone crazy, but he looked down just in time to see the copperhead Pokey shot just before it had time to bite him."
McCormack recalled that Gipson had been in charge of the warrants division at the sheriff's office. "At that time we handled the warrants for all the courts — chancery, circuit and municipal. It took a special man to evict a family from a home, then turn around and help them move, but that's what Pokey would do."
Noting that Gipson had "a big heart," he said he "might have to go repossess someone's vehicle, and he would do it because it was his job. Then he would do everything he could to help the people get to work or get their kids to school."
Gipson also was "tough," McCormack said, describing him as "a bulldog."
"You couldn't get by him. He would read the newspaper every day, especially the obits. I asked him why and he said he was trying to see if there was anyone there he had a warrant on."
Out of respect for families, however, Gipson "never served any papers at a funeral," McCormack said.
"Back in those days we had no communication if the power went out at the courthouse. Pokey could possibly at many times be the only deputy on duty for 724 square miles. We had to learn to talk first. We had no Tasers. We had to learn to use our wit and common sense first. Nobody was coming to help us.
"Those type of things are what I remember about Sam," McCormack said. "I worked with him, and then he worked for me when I was police chief. He always had his uniform squared away, his boots and brass were polished, and he always had his hair cut.
"He got stabbed once, and we teased him about surviving it since he was a rather portly gentleman," he said.
"We compared him to another guy, who was really skinny, and said he would have been 'cut in two' if it had happened to him."
Referring to Gipson's Civil Service Commission duties, McCormack noted that Gipson would call him to talk about some of the decisions he had to make. "He wouldn't mention names or any specifics, but I know he agonized about some of the decisions, especially when it involved disciplinary matters. He cared that much.
"When I was parks director, I would see him in his vehicle on field 1 at the parking lot. He wasn't supposed to smoke his pipe anymore because his doctor had told him not to, but he would sneak over to the park to smoke.
"When we worked for Joe Lee, the sheriff was also the collector then," McCormack recalled. "He used to pull the two of us off the street at tax time and have us wait on customers at the collector's office."
He compared the police department equipment in earlier years to what is available to officers now.
"We would drive those old cars till the wheels fell off them," he said."We were trained by Guy Grant and Bill Dyer (two Saline County law enforcement officers whose administrations are considered local legends). There was no Miranda rights then. We kind of had to adjust, and it was very difficult.
"Pokey could handle it, though. He would go serve a search warrant and then become friends with the people at the scene.
"There will never be another one like him," he added.
In lieu of flowers, Gipson's family requested that memorials be made to the Baptist Health Foundation, 9601 I-630, Exit 7, Little Rock, AR 72205.