‘A good sheriff’: Through many trials and life’s lessons, Bobby Kimbrough embraces faith and family ‘to be the best me’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 18, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Jim Buice

CLEMMONS — Going back to the days of watching classic television shows such as “Gunsmoke,” “The Rifleman” and “Wild, Wild West” as a young boy, Bobby Kimbrough always dreamed of being a police officer, a secret agent or maybe a sheriff.

Mission accomplished … with a career start in the Winston-Salem Police Department in 1984, followed by more than two decades serving in the U.S. Department of Justice as a special agent in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Kimbrough was elected as sheriff of Forsyth County in 2018 and is now serving his second term in office.

Kimbrough, who was born and raised in Winston-Salem and has lived the last 10 years in Clemmons, retired from the DEA in 2016 “when the age and years lined up” and started traveling and promoting a couple of books he had written previously before deciding to get back into coaching when he worked in the school system for Philo Middle School for a year.

And then there was this: “I got approached by some people then (about running for sheriff) and decided, ‘You know what, I think I can do this,” Kimbrough said. “God smiled on me, and we won the election, and, of course, He smiled on me again, and we won in 2022. I say this all the time. There are many times in life where there are dividers that keep us from being successful.

“When people asked one of the things I used when I was running, I would always say to them, ‘Do you want a Black sheriff, a white sheriff, a Republican sheriff, a Democratic sheriff, Independent sheriff or do you want a good sheriff?’ That’s what I claim to be. If you got sick right now and needed CPR, you wouldn’t care about none of those things. That’s who I am.”

Kimbrough takes a lot of pride in saying the place he sits in now is a constitutional office, but it’s also the people’s office. He never loses sight of that.

“Every day, when I come into this space and I sit down and I look forward, there’s a Bible on my credenza, and it has a black and blue cross in front of it,” he said. “And it reminds me that I operate from a place of humility and a place of righteousness, and that’s what grounds me every day. I love that the people of this county voted and gave me a chance to sit in their office.

“So, every day, I go about making this the best agency in this state. And I think we’ve done that.”

That includes the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office choosing Clemmons be the Drone as First Responder pilot program — the first of its kind in the state — in 2022. 

It’s been met with rave reviews for significantly decreasing response times to provide deputies with additional support for daily operations and making the village a safer place to live.

Kimbrough announced the FSCO was planning a partnership with Duke University late last year to build on the successful drone program and deliver automated external defibrillators to the scene of those experiencing cardiac arrest care — the first program of its kind in the United States.

“We are technologically advanced five years beyond the average agency in this state,” Kimbrough said.

More importantly, Kimbrough added that anything you do in law enforcement has to be some kind of what he calls “community credibility” where those out there have to believe in the people that serve them.

“And that’s one of the things we talk about every Monday at the Sheriff’s Office,” Kimbrough said. “We have a chaplain, and we begin our team meeting with prayer. It’s not something that we make people do. You don’t have to pray, but that’s what we’re going to do. It sets the tone for what we do the rest of the week.”

Now in his 40th year of law enforcement, Kimbrough quickly acknowledges it’s a different world than those early days.

“We’ve seen changes in the violence and lack of respect for law enforcement that didn’t used to have,” he said. “It’s a different culture. Now, to be effective where you serve, you have to meet the people where they are. Society has become accepting of things that I think have caused us to be in the place that we’re in.”

Along the way, Kimbrough, a single father who has seven sons, has gone through his share of tough times in his personal life, including his wife passing away in 2005 and then losing his home a couple of years later.

“I lost a lot of things in those three to four years,” Kimbrough said. “I was trying to raise the children in the house on one income. Why people trust me is because I understand when it’s like to be broke. I understand what it’s like to eat oodles of noodles. I understand what’s it’s like to eat off the dollar menu. And everything that I’ve lost God has given me back, and my faith is stronger because of some of the things I have been through because who could have imaged in that in 2007 I was broke and the same agency that served the foreclosure notice on me, that God would bring me 10 years later to sit in the same office of the people. 

“That’s nothing but God. I’ve made mistakes in my life, but I’m just telling you what he’s done for me and anything I speak I give honor to God before I say anything because as I inhale and exhale I could have been in Hell, but He spared me.”

Losing the house in Winston-Salem eventually led to Kimbrough looking around and deciding to move further west, which resulted in coming to Clemmons.

“I literally fell in love with the place,” he said, “I said, ‘This is where I’m going to be right here in Clemmons. It’s a one-stop shop. Everything you need is right here.”

As for the man behind the badge, Kimbrough said he loves to drive, hit the golf ball, watch movies and TV (especially Westerns) and do nothing. He also has been trying to get healthier by slowly changing his diet and recently working out four days a week — two mornings at 6 for cycle classes and two evenings at 6 for fitness classes. But he also admits to “being addicted to these Mountain Dews. I start my day with one, and always have to have one.”

Kimbrough also enjoys getting together with four of his seven sons who still live locally (the other three are in Atlanta, California and Kenya) on Sunday to sit and talk and reflect on life.

“When my wife passed, I had four boys in the house, and I look back it now, it almost makes me want to cry on how we got through,” Kimbrough said. “Raising my boys has truly been a blessing, watching them grow up, having to be a father and a mother and everything, I’m grateful for what they’ve accomplished.”

While saying he considers being a single parent raising his sons as responsible, respectful young men to be his greatest accomplishment, he readily admits his father had the greatest influence in his life.

“I still learn so much from him even though he doesn’t know who I am,” Kimbrough said of his dad, who has Alzheimer’s (his mom died three-plus years ago from Lewy Body dementia). “He was a very humble man who worked two jobs (at B&G Pie Company and RJR Reynolds Tobacco Co.) to take care of his family and always talked about the importance of family and that you’ll be going to church every Sunday and how God blesses you.”

Kimbrough realizes that he has come to a place in life where he has seen more years than are left for him to see – and you start looking at life differently.

“My thing now how I look at life is how can I make a better space in this world for that or who or what is coming behind me, my children, my grandchildren, my community,” he said. “You know, what will people say about you when you’re gone, how will they remember you, how you live between the hyphen. That’s what pushes me every day, pushes me to be the best me.”