Former Hamblen County Sheriff Otto Purkey dies

Two-term sheriff and long-time lawman Otto Purkey died Wednesday at his home.

He was 73.

Purkey was elected sheriff in 1998 and served until 2006. During that time, he served with his brother, David Purkey, who was Hamblen County Mayor.

They continue to be the only brothers in state history to serve as sheriff and county executive at the same time.

He worked his way up through the department until he was elected as the county’s top lawman.

“He loved that type of work because it was public service,” David said.

Friends and family remember him as a man who served with honor and dignity.

He was well-liked and respected.

“He understood relationships,” David said.

Purkey first worked at American Enka in the 1970s until he was hired as a patrolman for the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office in 1978.

Before his time in public safety, he also worked as a foreman for the Hamblen County Highway Department and a driver for Roadway Express.

Even after retiring from his long career with the sheriff’s department, he enjoyed life to the fullest, trading golf carts, lawn mowers, tractors and about anything with wheels.

“He enjoyed a 14-year retirement and he was a trader,” his brother said, laughing.

Otto, and his brother, didn’t just serve together once, but twice. David said as he was attending college at East Tennessee State University, he got a job part-time as a dispatcher for Hamblen County. That was around the time Otto was hired onto the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department.

During his time as sheriff, he helped bring improvements to the department. Perhaps his greatest gift was being able to connect with the one body that funds the department.

“He always had a good relationship with the County Commission,” David said.

His brother also remembers one story in particular while he was serving as county mayor and Otto was sheriff.

They had a disagreement over an issue and Otto called him. In the middle of the phone call, he hung up on David.

But, he had words beforehand.

“He told me I forgot where I came from,” David said, laughing.

But as brothers do, Otto got over it.

“He only hung up on me twice in the eight years we worked together,” David said. “But, he got over it quickly because we were brothers.”

Those who worked with him also remember him well.

Capt. Chad Mullins, with the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department, said Wednesday he was putting together an honor guard to be at the funeral in Otto’s honor.

“It was an honor to work for Otto,” he said. “He was easy to work for.”

Capt. Hugh Moore, with the sheriff’s department, said the public liked him. Everyone liked him.

“He was a good person to work for,” he said. “He was always lighthearted.”

County Mayor Bill Brittain said he served the county well and gave praise to the fact he was a career law enforcement officer who worked his way up through the ranks.

“I’m very appreciative of his work,” Brittain said.

Teresa West, Circuit Court clerk, came on board while Otto was still a patrol officer.

“I’ll always remember him as being respected,” she said.

She said he was a good friend and a person who did his job well.

“He was always there to do what was needed,” she said. “He was a great officer, sheriff and friend... We will miss him.”

He leaves behind a family who went into law enforcement. David served in law enforcement while his brother was a deputy, working as a state trooper, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent and later as the state Commissioner of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

His sons, Bryan and Todd, also went into law enforcement. Bryan Purkey is a retired Tennessee state trooper and Todd Davidson retired as a detective from the Morristown Police Department last week.

Friends may pay their respects from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Alder Funeral Home. A graveside service will be held at noon Saturday at Sunderland Cemetery in Talbott and honors will be conducted by the joint Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department and Morristown Police Department Honor Guard.