Among the people gathered at Brad E. Whitehead’s swearing-in ceremony, the one face Union County’s newest sheriff wanted to see wasn’t there.
It was the face of his predecessor: his father.
“As a kid, I grew up watching my father as the sheriff of Union County. He was my hero,” Whitehead said. “It was always a lifelong goal to follow in his footsteps.”
Whitehead’s Friday swearing-in at the county courthouse, at Northwest 1st St. and Northwest 1st Ave. in Lake Butler, came two days after Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to finish his father’s term, which ends in November.
Whitehead, 37, is the third in his family to hold the office, after his father and his grandfather, John H. Whitehead, according to the Gainesville Sun.
He was previously the Florida Department of Corrections’ assistant warden and a detective in the state fire marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, according to the sheriff’s office’s website.
Union County residents expressed remorse for the elder Whitehead.
“He was a sweet kind man. He could be stern when he needed to be,” said Lake Butler resident Catherine Filer. “He has always been a very good person.”
Jerry Whitehead’s nearly 30 years as sheriff ended in December when he died from cardiac arrest at 60. Major Garry Seay served as interim sheriff until Brad Whitehead’s appointment, according to the sheriff’s office’s website.
The elder Whitehead headed the office during one of the county’s most recent tragedies. In August, a longtime employee of the Pritchett Trucking Company killed himself after fatally shooting three others in an incident that made national headlines.
“Learning how to grieve is just something you have to go through. It can’t be taught,” Jerry Whitehead said at the time.
“My father told me many, many years ago that in these situations you have to get up, put your boots on, tie them real tight and go to work.”
For son Brad Whitehead, achieving his dream job came bittersweet.
“It’s truly an honor,” Whitehead said. “It’s a humbling experience.”