One of Guilford County’s most revered citizens – former two-term Democratic Sheriff of Guilford County Walter “Sticky” Burch – has passed away.
Burch was born just outside of Asheville on Oct. 21, 1918.
At the age of 100, three years ago, the well-known former sheriff of Guilford County was still working out regularly and had his driver’s license.
The former Democratic sheriff held that office for two four-year terms before being defeated by former Republican Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes in 1994.
Barnes said on Friday, July 28, that it was very sad to see the passing of such a great man. He said they were political opponents for years but also remained very good friends.
“I ran against him three times and he beat me twice,” Barnes said. “I beat him the third time. After the first race, Sticky said, ‘I really wanted to give it to you because your daughter was so upset,’” Barnes remembered fondly.
Barnes’ daughter cried up a storm after her father’s loss.
Barnes said he’d spoken with other community leaders Friday morning who had very kind words to say about Burch.
“Sticky cared about the people that worked for him,” Barnes said, adding that he, Barnes, tried to follow that model as well after taking over for Burch.
Barnes said the two men shared another common trait as well: “He hated politics, but he knew it was necessary to get things done.”
Barnes said the News & Record ran an article after Barnes beat Burch that stated that Burch should have made Barnes chief deputy after winning the election. Then Burch would still be sheriff the paper stated.
In October three years ago, Barnes threw a big party at the Shrine Club for Burch’s 100th birthday. At that time, a proclamation was read on the floor of Congress honoring Burch’s birthday and his “lifelong commitment to public service.”
Burch, a father of three and a grandfather, began serving in the US Air Force about a week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and, after the war, worked for many years as an officer with the Greensboro Police Department.
In 1986, Burch was first elected as Guilford County sheriff after the department had some well-publicized problems The department at that time also started using video cameras for First Appearances court, which meant inmates didn’t need to be transported as frequently between High Point and Greensboro. Burch and his staff also implemented programs that helped reduce the jail population since there was a major overcrowding problem in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Burch grew up in the Great Depression but told the Rhino Times several years ago that that didn’t make much difference to him.
“We grew up pretty poor, but I never did notice,” he said. “I always had a good meal to eat, a warm bed to sleep in and a loving family.”
He attended Greensboro High School, now Grimsley, and then attended Presbyterian College for a year.
Burch served in a wide variety of community organizations during his life and, until recently, he remained active with the Greensboro Jaycees Old Timers Club and the Greensboro Shrine Club.
He suffered a heart attack earlier this month.
Even Sticky himself wasn’t entirely positive where his nickname came from, but Burch said three years ago he believes it came from the time when he was a receiver for the Greensboro High School football team. When the ball was thrown to him it would stick to his hands – or so the legend goes.
Burch said that story doesn’t really make sense, however, because he honestly wasn’t that good at catching the ball.