The Sheriff and his oak tree

Commanding oak stands as a tangible testament to Sheriff Leon Lott’s 26 years in office so far

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

In the Spring of 1997, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott planted three trees – two crepe myrtles and an oak – just outside the back door of his office at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) headquarters building on Two Notch Road in northeast Columbia. That was 26 years ago, less than four months after he had been sworn-in as sheriff for the first time. He was first elected to office in 1996.

Then not much more than saplings, the three trees were part of an overall effort to refurbish the grounds behind Lott’s office which today includes eight picnic tables in a simple patio and courtyard setting walled in by railroad ties (and a security fence) with the trees on either end, and the larger oak on a commanding hill above the yard.

“These trees have stood as sentinels and they’ve weathered lots of storms over the past 26 years – just like people weathering storms in the same quarter century-plus,” said Lott as he strolled the grounds and the hill with his oak, last Friday, July 21. “They’ve lost limbs and branches in hurricanes and lesser storms with also high winds, but survived. They’ve endured searing heat, lots of rain including the 1,000-year flood, some snow and cold, blossomed in spring and displayed color on beautiful fall days, and yes, there have been woodpeckers. Songbirds have nested in this oak tree and squirrels have scampered up its trunk and all around its branches.” And all is visible from the windows of Lott’s office.

According to Lott, kids have climbed the oak, likely his own children and grandchildren considering how long the trees have been present. “We’ve had everything from birthday parties to retirement ceremonies out here with the trees standing tall above us,” he said. “Some people even come out here to eat their lunch on pretty days.”

A new tree will soon make its way to RCSD headquarters over the next several days. Lott’s longtime friend Bruce Brutschy will be delivering it on behalf of another good friend Dr. Tom Mullikin, chair of the S.C. Floodwater Commission. That tree will be planted in the department’s memorial garden a few feet across the parking lot from the Sheriff’s backdoor courtyard. A gift to Lott from the statewide SC7 Expedition, led by Mullikin from the mountains to the sea, the new tree will replace a fallen tree in the garden.

– Pictured is Sheriff Leon Lott with his storied oak tree.

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