RED SPRINGS — Flags in Red Springs will fly at half-staff through Wednesday for a longtime police chief who is recalled as serving Red Springs in a way reminiscent of those on the black-and-white screen.
Luther Haggins — mason, World War II veteran, Robeson County native and member of the town’s police force for nearly 40 years — died Saturday at Morrison Manor in Laurinburg. He was 92.
Haggins spent 39 years on the town’s police force, much of those as chief. He retired in the late 1980s. Before his time in Red Springs, he served as a military policeman during World War II, and as an officer in Carolina Beach and the city of Chadbourn.
He is recalled by Red Springs’ current police chief as the town’s “Andy Griffith.”
“As I grew up as a little boy in the community, he was a fair police chief,” Chief Ronnie Patterson said. “If you got into trouble he would take you home … . He was well-known in the community and tried to help everyone he came in to contact with.”
Ben Smith was hired by Haggins as a patrolman in June 1986, and would later go on to become the town’s first detective. He was one of a staff of eight who would double during Haggins’ tenure.
“He reminded us more of Barney Fife,” Smith said. “He wore the old taxicab hat, and was real slim, and he’d get real hyper every once and a while like Barney Fife if something was going on. He was a good man, he was a funny man, and like I say, everybody loved him … .”
Patterson and his officers will give Haggins a police funeral today at First Baptist Church, where Haggins was baptized as a member in 1949.
The Rev. Brad Boberg said that he could “talk forever” about the man whom he called “one of his favorite people.” He said more than one person has told him that Haggins put him on a path away from prison.
“He took the time to mentor young men and women to make sure they stayed out of trouble,” he said. “… He came across a lot of people in his work. If he found a need, he would try to meet it himself or find a way for it to be met.”
Boberg said that in the 1960s, when nothing in Red Springs was open on a Sunday, Haggins would make sure that a portion of whatever his wife Gerry cooked for dinner would wind up on a plate for whoever was spending the night in the town’s jail cell — and on Thanksgiving and Christmas, he did the same.
“One of the things I find most interesting is that people would say if he didn’t do something for you, he sure wouldn’t do something against you,” he said. “He had no malice in his body.”
Smith said that Haggins would pick up groceries for “little old ladies” who couldn’t leave their homes and called on him for help. But what he was most known for was a daily routine that “you could set your clock by.”
“Luther would come in and want to know how you were doing and what happened overnight, then he’d go to the post office and check the mail, and then he’d walk down Main Street, every day, about five or six times a day.”
Boberg said dedication to his family was a “huge part of what made Luther who he was,” and Mayor John McNeill said that family also stood by him.
McNeill said in the days before walkie-talkies, Haggins would go home for a lunch break during a 12-hour shift and one of his four children would sit in the patrol car and listen to the radio so their dad wouldn’t miss a call.
“That’s the way he served us,” McNeill said. “He was a phenomenal human being, he was dedicated to the department and to the people of Red Springs.”
Though Patterson said he “never had the opportunity to work under his leadership,” he said he hoped that he has been able to carry on Haggins’ way of “walking with, and talking with, the people.”
“He believed in street patrol, the importance of being visible and the security in the businesses downtown — everyone knew their police officers,” said Larry Floyd, who was hired by Haggins in 1974 and retired as a major.
“He was a very hard-working law enforcement officer, and he built up the city of Red Springs,” he said. “He will be missed greatly.”
Abbi Overfelt works for Civitas Media as editor of The Red Springs Citizen and The St. Pauls Review.