Will Morris: Greene County sheriff rides into sunset-- maybe

Judges, movie stars, pro basketball players, and congressmen have all felt the sting of law enforcement when speeding through Greene County. Recently, five-term Sheriff William Morris, the man who made enforcing the speed limit a source of revenue– and controversy– announced his retirement.

Weary of battling the Greene County Board of Supervisors, Morris says he may run for supervisor himself. Since being elected in 1983, Morris has struggled to fund a department that has grown from four deputies when he took office to 14 today. But the battles with the board of supervisors continue.

Arresting one board member's son on charges of wife beating and another's brother for a DUI probably didn't help Morris' relationship with the board or with the county's good ole boy network. Nor did chasing a supervisor who might have been illegally hunting. Nor, perhaps, do his blunt characterizations that the BOS is a place to see "how much money can you put in your pocket."

In 2001, when the supes cut his budget, Morris ordered his deputies to stop ticketing cars without the county decal and to write tickets under state instead of county code so the fines would go into state coffers.

"I would do it again in a heartbeat if pushed by this board," says Morris.

Morris' first love was a gym he opened in Charlottesville in the mid-70s. He also worked as a special events deputy in Albemarle, though he lived in Greene County, where his parents were born.

Morris decided to run for sheriff after driving through Stanardsville and seeing dozens of cars blocking the streets and people drinking. "The game warden had been beaten up, and I wondered why nothing had been done," says Morris, who likens Greene County in the early '80s to "the wild, wild west."

Much to his surprise, he won, and nearly 20 years later, he says proudly, "I'm leaving the county in much better shape."

And the sheriff denies the perception held by many Charlottesvillians that the county is a speed trap. "You don't get a ticket for going 60," he says. "You've got to be flying."

Age: 59

What brought you here? I moved to Virginia in 1970 from Baltimore. I got tired of city life, the rat race.

What's worst about living in Greene County? Too much gossip. Everyone knows your business, or they think they do.

Favorite hangout? My gym in a garage next to my residence.

Most overrated virtue? Righteousness. It's ignored all week except Sunday mornings for an hour or two.

What would people be surprised to know about you? I do not have a woman in my life at this time.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I'd be more patient and tolerant, especially with myself.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Professionally, being elected sheriff five times. Personally, winning the International Powerlifting Federation World Masters powerlifting championship last year in South America.

What do people find most annoying about you? I'm a hard, tough negotiator who does not bend or give up easily.

Whom do you admire? John Wayne

Favorite book? Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind

 What subject causes you to rant? The Greene County Board of Supervisors (three out of the five) for their ignorance of law enforcement and the operation of a sheriff's office, and their refusal to properly fund it.

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? You can do or become almost whatever you want with a little effort.

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? Federal spending. Billions go to make Israel and other countries safe when we're not safe, and billions are spent on the space program when people are starving, don't have health insurance, and can't get an education.

What do you drive? A 1997 Ford pickup

What's in your car CD player right now? Rolling Stones

Next journey? I have about 11 months left in my current journey. Next, I'd like to write– I'm not sure what– or set a world record powerlifting.

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? About five years ago, when a deputy failed to make service on a civil paper, the lawyer who issued it took me to court. I was found guilty and fined $25. The judge threw out the case on appeal.

What do you regret? Not getting the opportunity to finish my education, and not getting into law enforcement in my 20s instead of my 30s.

Favorite comfort food? Rocky Road ice cream

What's always in your refrigerator? Vegetables my mother canned, cheese, orange juice, yogurt.

Must-see TV? Sports, especially boxing, pro football, and track and field.

Favorite cartoon? I never watch cartoons. It would be a waste of my time.

Describe a perfect day. A good night's sleep, a slow day at the office with no court, go home, have a productive workout, and afterwards, a good home-cooked meal by my mother, a good movie, no phone calls from my office, and finally, a good cigar and glass of red wine.

Walter Mitty fantasy? As an understaffed, overworked, and under funded small-county sheriff, I have to cope with reality so much that I don't have the time or inclination to slip into fantasy.

Who'd play you in the movie? Ray Liotta

Most embarrassing moment? When I took the Virginia State Compensation Board to court for additional deputies in 1985-86 and found out the attorney general's office represents the compensation board.

Best advice you ever gave? I tell each new deputy that anyone who speeds or breaks the law in Greene County will be arrested, positively no exceptions.

Favorite bumper sticker? "Don't be silly, re-elect Sheriff Willy" from my second bid for sheriff in 1987.