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Any journalist with an ounce of compassion does not delight in reporting an event like the death of former Brunswick County Sheriff Ronald Hewett.
Hewett’s story is familiar to most long-time residents. When he first became sheriff in 1994 at age 31, he was the youngest to be elected to the office in North Carolina. Hewett’s leadership heralded a new era for the sheriff’s office, which was stinging from Herman Strong’s resignation following his conviction on federal drug-smuggling and conspiracy charges.
Handsome, charming and charismatic, Hewett proceeded to make his mark by fully immersing himself in the job, working to make the office’s dive, rescue, drug and SWAT units the best in the state. He generated headlines for his dedication and benevolence, and he reveled in the positive publicity.
Years later, the Brunswick County native would tell a Beacon reporter all he ever wanted to be was his county’s sheriff. His dream came true.
Hewett loved the people he served, and they loved him back.
Perhaps that is why it hurt so many of them to hear the allegations of misdeeds that dogged him midway through his tenure. When his 14-year tenure came to a humbling close — a month after his conviction on an obstruction of justice and three embezzlement charges and after he pleaded guilty to a federal obstruction of justice charge — many of them still supported him, in remembrance and gratitude for all the good he accomplished as a sheriff, as an ordinary Brunswick County citizen and as a man.
Hewett’s law enforcement career was over, but it seems fair to say everyone who knew him was rooting for his comeback from substance abuse and public disgrace. He had taken responsibility for his actions and served his time.
Hewett was innocent unless or until proven guilty of the federal firearms charge that put him back in the news this week. We cannot pretend it did not happen and must report it. We expected he would have his day in court to settle this latest accusation against him, to hear his side.
The cliché is that once you have hit rock bottom, you have nowhere to go but up. The implied sentiment is that as long as you are alive, you have the chance to conquer your demons, rise above your circumstances and turn things around.
After this week’s edition, we at the Beacon will fulfill our obligation to report the cause and manner of Hewett’s death. After that, the story is over.
No one wanted it to end this way.
Regardless of how it came to be, this man’s passing is the most tragic end possible to one of the saddest chapters in our community’s history.
Our hearts go out to everyone who loved and cared for Ronald Hewett, and may he rest in peace.