April 27, 2018
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Rutherford County Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh hears from the community every day.
Usually they’re upset.
He and his deputies take those complaints seriously and, yes, there are occasionally compliments and a random pat on the back.
Until recently, Fitzhugh had never received a letter like the one written by Brayden Stewart. The second-grader at Stewartsboro Elementary wrote a letter to him as part of the school’s Great Kindness Challenge.
Stewart wrote: “Real heroes don’t have a name on the back of their jersey. They have a badge on their uniform. Thank you for your sacrifice and service.”
“It’s a little unusual, but something that is very appreciated,” admitted Fitzhugh, who said, to the best of his knowledge, the sheriff’s office had not received a letter like that in at least a decade, if ever. “We had a chance to share it with all of our employees and they had an opportunity to write back to him.
“It’s been great for all of us.”
Fitzhugh shared the letter with his deputies and other office staff.
As a group, the deputies felt Stewart’s words were a reaffirmation of the positive impact the School Resource Officers are having with students in Rutherford County, especially elementary-aged students like Stewart.
Fitzhugh and several of his deputies, including Bill Heringlake, handwrote letters in return.
In part, Heringlake wrote: “In my eyes you are the true hero by being willing to express your support of the law enforcement community.”
In his letter to Stewart, Heringlake added, “It’s good to know that there are still people, like you, who appreciate us and the work we do. It’s letters like yours that make my forty plus years (of) service worth every second.”
Fitzhugh invited Stewart, his mother Ann, and his older sister Breana to the office so the deputies could hand-deliverer their letters to Stewart.
Stewartsboro principal Gary Seymore and Stewart’s teacher Jennifer Ricks also joined them during last week’s visit.
“I thought it was amazing for him to be recognized,” Ricks said. “It was neat.”
As part of the challenge, students received a worksheet with 25 squares listing random acts of kindness. The directions stated that if a student competed any five acts in a row they would earn an extra 30-minute recess with their co-circular teachers.
In addition to bringing Ricks a treat, Stewart brought his entire class treats as two of his five acts of kindness.
His letter, which was delivered to the sheriff by his mother and who previously worked as a nurse for the sheriff’s office, was the third of his five acts.
“It felt pretty good,” said Stewart, who has enjoyed being the center of attention despite also being nervous. “It was fun.”
He’s quiet, soft-spoken and a bit shy.
The challenge was not mandatory. Ricks was not surprised Stewart used his personal time after school to complete all five acts of kindness so much as she was pleasantly pleased that he thought of writing the sheriff a letter.
His mother helped with the message.
Stewart was one of 12 students in a class of 20, who completed the challenge. He admitted he’s looking forward to his extra recess.
“I think you got a lot more than just an extra recess,” joked Ricks, who invited Sheriff Fitzhugh to visit Stewart’s entire class.
Fitzhugh and deputy Brad Harrison joined Stewartsboro’s SRO Sam Trubee on Thursday morning.
The trio visited with the kids, shared gifts and posed for photos.
When asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, students replied with everything from professional ball players to teachers and, of course, police officers.
Harrison told them whatever they choose to be “starts now.” He explained that those seeking to be police officers especially need to follow classroom rules and “form good habits.”
Fitzhugh, who talked about his role as sheriff, said he wanted to visit the class to let Stewart and his classmates know how special it was for someone their age to think so kindly of law enforcement.
He added, “All of us have a tender place for kids and it touches you.”
PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT