Filming on SHERIFF has wrapped, but Brunswick County lawman Ronald E. Hewett’s crusade for justice and order in his community is still going strong. In a December 2005 interview with Independent Lens, Hewett talks about success, his celluloid legacy and how he can still take down the criminals.
What are some of the biggest changes that have taken place since the film?
We’ve moved into a new building, built a new jail, we have a fitness center and our very own training room. The staff has grown—we’ve probably added additional 25 people since the film was made. [My son] Justin is in college at Brunswick County Community College and [my daughter] Jessica is a senior in high school and she’s taking classes at the community college. Some of the scenes show me as active in the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association and I now serve as president.
Did you find the murderer of the elderly lawyer?
No. That remains unsolved, although we have a primary suspect that was very close to the deceased at the time of the murder. The case remains an open case in the annals of the Brunswick County Sheriff cold case files.
Do you think the film was an accurate portrayal of your daily life?
Absolutely. I don’t think it could’ve been any more accurate. I think 100 years from now, if someone was to sit down and play a DVD of the movie, they would be able to see what it was like being family man, sheriff and member of a community.
What is your philosophy for success?
My philosophy for success—and I preach this to all of my employees at my staff meetings—takes three things: commitment, attention to detail and immediate follow up. You noticed how persnickety I was in the film. I like things just right. It’s the small things that end up bringing down empires.
In the beginning of the film, we see a lot of signs in town with the name Hewett. What is the history of your family in Brunswick County?
The Hewetts came to Brunswick County [from England] around 1734. Brunswick County was established in 1764, so we were here before the Revolution, as English whale fishermen. There are hundreds of Hewetts. Some are very close cousins, but usually after third, we just say we’re kin.
Why did you enter law enforcement?
It was a lifelong dream. Ever since I was a little boy, I used to play cops and robbers and I always felt that by entering law enforcement, I could make a difference. I’m the first in my family in law enforcement. Mom is a teacher in Brunswick County schools and Dad was a Korean War vet in the U.S. Army and retired from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. I started in 1983 as the youngest certified law enforcement officer in North Carolina, and I’ve been with the same agency for 23 years.
What's the one thing about Brunswick County that you want everyone to know?
Brunswick County is a very tight-knit community; it’s a hidden treasure that many people are just now finding. The part about how it was backwoods and not very professional at one time, I sincerely, from the pit of my stomach, from the bottom of my heart, wanted to turn that around. Since that time, many good things have happened.
Do you still love your job?
I still want people to know that I very much love my job and want it for many more years. I’m getting ready in January to file for a fourth term in office. I would say it’s hard getting to the top of the hill, but it’s much harder staying on top of the hill. The game of life is like playing king of the mountain: You have to make sure that you work daily as a public servant to see that all of the constituents are as pleased as they possibly can be. I try every day to do a good deed, to help someone, to lock up a thief, to get a drug dealer, but also do the little things for the community. I don’t have any future ambitions to go to Congress or the Senate. That’s not a goal of mine. I live on the same family farm that has been in my family for hundreds of years.
Have you been offended by any of the comments about your accent?
I get offended when people hear the coastal accent that I have, or that many of our local folks have, and they relate that with ignorance. You might say that I’m very proud of my accent. It is an old English accent that is only native to the people who live along the coastal areas called a “High Tider” accent. Many times, I’ll go places and people will say, “Will you just talk for me?”
I understand you’ve written a book?
It’s called Ronald E. Hewett: Recipes and Remembrances. It was [my wife’s] idea. It’s a hardback book that starts off with a history of my life, photos of my childhood on the farm and Brunswick County. It’s got over 400 recipes that are absolutely wonderful. I dedicated the book to a hunting buddy of mine who died of cancer. [Hewett held a fundraiser and donated sales from the book to raise over $26,500 for the local hospice.]
Tell us some of the exciting things that have been happening since the cameras stopped rolling.
I had my rotator cuff torn because I was beaten with a tire tool during a home invasion. I was going to lunch with my wife in Calabash, the seafood capital of the world, and my wife was in the vehicle with me, and I saw a stranger walking up the road to one of my cousin’s homes. I called him up and asked, “Is someone supposed to be at your house?” And he said no. When we pulled around, this guy had disappeared. He was inside the home, high on crack cocaine and armed with a tire tool. I ran into the home and pulled my gun but the hallway where we were fighting was so narrow, I was afraid that I would shoot my cousin, so I re-holstered the gun and entered the fight. We were tearing pictures off the walls, blood was spurting all over the house and the guy hit me four or five times with the tire tool, but I managed to get him to the ground. He is now serving 40 to 50 years—basically life—for the attack.
When you were making the movie, did you expect that it would be as successful as it has been?
I’m humbled. I had no idea that people would find my life, my job and what we do so interesting. I am honored. I wanted to leave my children and my grandchildren a legacy that they could look back upon and see that I did care, I did want to make a difference and I had a good life. It was a life of hard work and commitment and long hours, but it was a life worth living. If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it all again, including the movie.
Read a Q&A with SHERIFF filmmaker Daniel Kraus >>