A familiar and respected face around the Cherokee County courthouse and Sheriff’s Office will be missed following the death of a man with a long career in law enforcement, who also was a bailiff this week.
Former Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Johnny Nelson, 82, died last Saturday, and those who worked with him prior to his retirement remembered him as a police officer’s policeman, one who always gave good advice.
“I met Sgt. Nelson in 1994, I always called him sergeant even when he retired, when I came to work at the Sheriff’s Offfice. I knew immediately he was a cop’s cop,” said Maj. Ron Hunton, head of criminal investigations at the Sheriff’s Office. “He listened when I talked and would humbly offer very sage advice to me. He didn’t brag about his background in law enforcement — he didn’t have to — I knew he was a good cop and I started listening more than talking. I enjoyed the conversations we had and recognized him as a true gentleman.’”
Nelson was a Cherokee County native, born in Ball Ground, and served in the Korean War, where he received a Purple Heart and was awarded the Bronze Star after being wounded on a rescue mission in active combat.
Nelson began his law enforcement career in 1956 with Dade County Fla, Sheriff’s Office, later to become Miami Dade, where he became the fourth person ever in the nation to make a live radio broadcast on traffic conditions from a helicopter.
In his early years he was an excellent baseball player and was approached by a scout with the Atlanta Crackers and offered a position with the team.
Nelson decided to turn the scout down because he was concerned that if something happened to his arm he would not have much of a future and would be unable to care for his family, Hunton said.
“He was also a talented boxer and when he was 16 he left Miami without his parent’s permission, traveling to Cuba to fight in a match. The Cuban officials had to call his parents and ship him home,” Hunton said. “Knowing Sgt. Nelson now I can see this happening.”
Nelson left law enforcement to provide for his growing family and for several years worked several jobs, often more than one, to take care of his family.
In 1990, he returned to law enforcement where he was possibly the oldest law enforcement recruit in his class, Hunton said.
“Not to be deterred, he graduated and it is without a doubt those young police recruits learned something from the “old man,” Hunton said.
Nelson retired in 2000 from the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office at the age of 69. He then became a bailiff at the Cherokee County Justice Center, retiring again in 2010.
During his years with the Sheriff’s Office, Nelson was the commander of the Evidence Unit where he kept meticulous records of thousands of pieces of evidence.
“I was always amazed that he could immediately retrieve evidence from the evidence room when called for, as if he knew exactly where the item was,” Hunton said. “The trick was he really did know just where every piece was.”
Funeral services were Thursday at the Sosebee Memorial Chapel with the Rev. David Burris officiating.
Survivors include two sons, Dennis Nelson of Canton and Daniel Nelson of Atlanta; one daughter, Diane “Didi” Nelson of Smyrna; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, 4899 Belfort Road, Ste. 300, Jacksonville, FL 32256 or online at www.wounded warriorproject.org.