By Joe Beck
Former Warren County Sheriff Gary Turner Keyser, remembered by colleagues as one of the last of the old-time small town sheriffs, died Saturday at Blue Ridge Hospice Inpatient Care Center in Winchester.
Keyser, 78, of Front Royal, was sheriff from 1965 until he resigned in 1974 to join the state Department of Corrections, where he worked until his retirement.
Lynn Armentrout, who was elected sheriff after Keyser, described him as "one of my mentors in helping me learn my job."
"Gary was No. 1, first class all the way," Armentrout said. "He was the epitome of the old southern sheriff who was out there to help at all times."
Armentrout was on the Front Royal police force at the time Keyser took office during an era featuring much smaller law enforcement agencies. Armentrout said the town's 12 officers and the 15 deputies in the Sheriff's Office worked together very closely.
Keyser made personal service a hallmark of his time in office, Armentrout said.
"Whether it was that cat up the tree or the robbery," Armentrout said, "he took one just as seriously as the other because the person calling needed help."
Prudence B. Mathews said she had a vivid memory of how she became a part-time deputy when Keyser called her and said he needed her help in taking a woman who had just been arrested on suspicion of stabbing a man to death into custody .
"Right away, I was sworn in as a deputy sheriff," Mathews said. "I had to spend the night there in the cell next to her. It was cold, and I was scared to death."
Mathews said Keyser's efforts to ensure public safety didn't stop at the Sheriff's Office.
The "good old boy system" that was pervasive at the time allowed Keyser to easily fill several roles with other agencies.
"He would drive the ambulance, he would drive the fire truck," Mathews said. "It was no big deal."
Armentrout said Keyser resigned as sheriff in 1974 and finished his career overseeing what is now the White Post Men's Diversion Center in White Post.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org