BAY COUNTY, Fla. — The Bay County Sheriff’s Office is saying goodbye to one of their own as LaVelle Pitts died on Tuesday morning.
According to his wife, Pitts died of pneumonia in their home.
Sheriff Pitts was elected in 1980 and took over the office in January of 1981. He served as sheriff until 1989.
News 13 sat down with former Sheriff Frank McKeithen and current Sheriff Tommy Ford in order to pay tribute to Pitts.
McKeithen became the Bay County sheriff in 2003 but served as a deputy under Pitts for many years.
“I mean he actually moved us into the 21st century. He was so motivated and he had so many ideas about law enforcement and modernizing our law enforcement,” said McKeithen.
Most of those ideas became programs and are still used to this day. McKeithen said, “He started crime stoppers. It’s now one of the most awesome things we have at the sheriff’s office.”
Before becoming sheriff, Ford says Pitts served numerous years in other agencies. “He actually worked for the Florida Sheriff’s Bureau at one time which later became FDLE. He worked for the Marine Patrol. I think he was a Springfield Police Chief. And he was actually interim sheriff of Jefferson County at one time before running for sheriff in 81.”
McKeithen says watching Pitts work as sheriff, helped him during his term. “In order to lead, you have to lead. a lot of people tell you how to do things and Sheriff Pitts showed us how to do things. It’s like when Sheriff Pitts came in, he just opened the door and he was a leader and I’ve always respected that.”
While Ford never worked alongside Pitts, he says he too learned from him. “He was always such a good friend and good person to talk to about the challenges of being sheriff,” said Ford.
While Pitts has now passed, both McKeithen and Ford agree the bond in their tight circle will never fade.
“He was a great person. I admire and respect him. He was a great sheriff. I admire him and I’ll always respect him,” said McKeithen.
Pitts was survived by his wife, Sally Jo, six children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Heritage Funeral Home in Callaway. The service will be Friday at 2:00 at the First Baptist Church of Panama City.