Sunday, 15 August 2021 21:32

'RIDE HIGH, CLEM': Richmond County bikers honor late sheriff

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Bill Thompson leads a group of bikers through downtown Rockingham Sunday afternoon in a tribute to the late Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. See more photos and a video of the bikes leaving on the Richmond Observer's Facebook page. Bill Thompson leads a group of bikers through downtown Rockingham Sunday afternoon in a tribute to the late Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. See more photos and a video of the bikes leaving on the Richmond Observer's Facebook page. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — More than 100 motorcycles roared in front of the old Richmond County courthouse Sunday afternoon during a seven-rev salute in honor of late Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr.


“We just felt like it was something we needed to do,” said independent biker Bill Thompson, who organized the ride, along with Jamie Watson.

Clemmons was hired as a patrol deputy for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in 1989 and worked his way through the ranks before being elected sheriff in 2010. He died at his home Aug. 5 at the age of 60, and his funeral was held Aug. 10 at Cole Auditorium.

Watson announced the ride the day following Clemmons’ death.

“Clem was a great man,” Watson told the bikers who were assembled in the backyard of the Hide-A-Way Tavern. “I don’t know what to say … I’m speechless.

“He supported us,” Watson added. “Everytime I walked in up there, he was like, ‘Where y’all riding to?’ Last time I went up there, he was like, ‘Where y’all going this time?’ I was like, ‘I’m here to get a handgun permit.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, you might need one.’”

Mark Gulledge served as Clemmons’ chief deputy for 11 years and was recently tapped by the Richmond County Democratic Party to fill out the remainder of the term.

“I’m envious of everyone that owns a bike,” he said. “Because, when I was teenager, I was on an XR-80 and laid it down on some loose pine straw. That was the end of my biking … so I’m going to watch y’all, I’m going to enjoy y’all.

“We’re devastated,” Gulledge continued. “We thank you, and ride ‘em loud and proud.”

Before they left, Thompson explained the plan for the seven-rev salute: “Seven meaning ‘completion.’”

“... I think that would be one of the greatest tributes we could ever do,” Thompson said.

In addition to the ride, donations were also made to go toward a college fund for Clemmons’ grandchildren.

The convoy left the bar, taking the back roads to Steele Street and past Clemmons’ home, before riding down Fayetteville Road and East Washington Street, around Harrington Square before stopping in front of the old courthouse, which houses the sheriff’s office.

A patrol car set up hours after Clemmons’ death still sat in front, adorned with a wreath and flowers, with the lights covered.

Gulledge thanked all who participated from the old courthouse steps.

“Clem would be smiling right now, asking you about your bike,” Gulledge said.

Several people spoke after the ride, including Anson County Commissioner Vancine Sturdivant. Her son, William “Bugga” Sturdivant is president of Playaz Elite Motorcycle Club.

She also considered Clemmons like a son.

In 2017, Sturdivant was in a head-on collision coming into Rockingham.

She said she was clinging to a jacket that belonged to her late husband, who passed away two years prior.

“Clem was one of the first ones to get to that accident and he knew the jacket,” she said. “The EMS services was going to cut that jacket off of me and Clem told them not to cut that jacket. That joker called to Chapel Hill and told them, ‘Y’all better not touch that jacket.’ I’m serious, I don’t know who he knew up there … when they brought me to, I still had that jacket on … To this day, I got that jacket and it was because of this man.”

She also introduced two of the riders, who are officers with the Wadesboro Police Department.

Several sentiments seemed to be echoes of those expressed during Clemmons’ funeral, including his love for everyone, regardless of race, and how he was more worried about others than himself.

“This ain’t about color, this ain’t about race, this is about loving each other,” she said.

Lin Jones broke down in tears prior to giving the closing prayer.

“Every time I saw Clem, he hugged me, said he loved me,” Jones said. 

During the prayer, Jones said it was a sad day, “but I tell you what, I know someone that’s very happy up there right now, Father, and he’s looking down at all these people with these gigantic hearts.”

The second annual Back the Blue ride is scheduled for Aug. 21.

The event is a joint effort between bikers in Richmond and Scotland counties to benefit the Shop With a Cop programs in both areas.

Last year’s event — which included several law enforcement officers from both counties — drew more than 200 participants and featured an appearance by U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop.

There is a $20 entry fee for this year’s ride.