(PITTSBORO, N.C.) -- Chatham County Sheriff Don Whitt started his career as a deputy in 1965 when the county's biggest problem was backwoods white lightning.
He busted up more than one still back then when it was just him, the sheriff and a couple of other deputies. They had to share a walkie-talkie between them, and it didn't work that well, he said.
"The No. 1 vice was stills in Chatham County with everybody selling white liquor," Whitt said. "Now it's crack and crack cocaine that is tearing us up."
After more than 35 years with the Sheriff's Department, Whitt announced last week that he's retiring on Thursday because of heart problems. Last Easter he was hospitalized after doctors discovered a blockage near his heart.
"The doctor advised me then to get out of this job if I could," the 50-year-old Whitt said. "I told them I would think about it. I've got my retirement made at the end of this month."
Chief Deputy Ike Gray has been named interim sheriff. The Chatham County Commissioners is scheduled to meet on Dec. 4, and it's expected that the board will vote to approve Gray as the sheriff to complete the final two years of Whitt's elected term.
"The appointment of the sheriff will be made on Dec. 4," County Manager Charlie Horne said. "I don't know of any other names than Ike Gray."
Gray said he hopes the commissioners will vote to name him sheriff.
"I'm excited," he said. "I'm ready."
Gray, 49, has been with the Chatham County Sheriff's Department since June 13, 1983. If he's named sheriff, he will serve until 2002, and then he would have to run for the office if he wants to continue as sheriff.
When Whitt ran for sheriff in 1990, he won that election and each one since by a landslide, which shows the people of Chatham County liked what he was doing, Gray said.
"He had opponents but he won out big," Gray said.
Whitt said he's proud of the DARE and CARE programs that the Sheriff's Department runs.
"Except for this past year, I've attended every graduating class and will probably continue to attend after I retire," he said.
Horne credits Whitt with implementing effective domestic violence programs.
"He was at the forefront of training his officers how to respond in a way that gets to the problem but protects the officers," Horne said. "He's been very effective with that."
Whitt also made a point of treating everyone the same.
"He's been a fundamental part of the leadership in terms of educating and training his officers with the belief of dealing with citizens with dignity and respect," Horne said.
Whitt owns cows and horses and will spend more time working with them and around the house.
"My wife's 'Honey, do list' will take me two years," he said, "to catch all that up."
Chatham Sheriff Don Whitt, To Retire After 35 Years Chief Deputy Ike Gray Named Interim Until County Board Votes On Official Appointment BETH VELLIQUETTE Chh@Herald-Sun.Com; 732-6397 November 28, 2000, Tuesday Copyright 2000 The Durham Herald Co. Chapel Hill Herald November 28, 2000, Tuesday Terms and Conditions Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.