By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke County Sheriff Dr. Hubert A. Peterkin died Friday night, leaving the community where he was born and raised in shock from the longtime leader’s unexpected passing. He was 59 years old, and served as sheriff for nearly 20 years.
Peterkin had cancer and died from complications during surgery, Hoke County Commission Chairman Harry Southerland said he learned.
“He had cancer and went in for surgery on Friday. While in surgery they found a blood clot,” the chairman said.
Peterkin’s passing was a “rough blow” for the community he served for decades.
“It was a shock to me. In my opinion Hoke County has been dealt a blow, a rough blow,” Southerland said.
The chairman was called into an emergency meeting just before midnight Friday with high-ranking staff members of the sheriff’s office, who told him of Peterkin’s passing.
“We lost a great servant. He was a friend to everybody. He was everybody’s sheriff, always the ultimate professional. He took our sheriff’s office to another level, to national accreditation,” Southerland said. “He knew what we need to stay safe in Hoke County. He puts Hoke County first and I really respect that about him.”
“We’re going to get through it. We need everybody to pray for Hoke County and pray for the Peterkin family.”
Peterkin’s sister, Hazel Peterkin Ware, posted to Facebook, “This is unbelievable. Please keep the Peterkin family in prayer.”
A public viewing and walk-through will be held from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, October 29 at Cape Fear Conference B Headquarters, located at 10225 Fayetteville Road. The doors will close at 1 p.m. with a private funeral to follow at 2 p.m., to include family, law enforcement, constituents and others deemed by family. Services are provided by Buie’s Funeral Home in Raeford.
Leaders and community mourn
Flags in the county were lowered to half-staff this week out of respect for Peterkin, and dark bunting draped the doors of the sheriff’s office on East Central Avenue. Mourners placed a wreath, flowers and balloons outside the building.
Leaders from across the state poured out messages of grief and remembrance, offering condolences and support to the sheriff’s family, the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office and the Hoke County community.
“Hoke County has lost a friend and we’re all very sad, we have lost a family member,” longtime Commissioner James Leach said Saturday.
The county board of commissioners praised Peterkin’s dedication over his many years of service.
“We are all deeply saddened by the passing of Sheriff Peterkin. This is a tremendous loss for all of us. Sheriff Peterkin faithfully served Hoke County for over 19 years, with over 30 years in law enforcement and dedicated his life to serving and helping others. Sheriff Peterkin’s strong leadership and deep compassion for people made the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office a leading law enforcement agency in this state,” county officials said in a press release. “The Hoke County Board of Commissioners always had the deepest respect and admiration for the sheriff, and we were honored and proud to work with him throughout the years. We lost a great man today. He will be greatly missed by the members and staff of the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office and all the people throughout Hoke County who have been positively impacted by his kindness, care, and generosity over the years. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Sheriff’s wife Della and his children as they grieve their loss.”
Hoke and Moore County District Attorney Mike Hardin said that he didn’t have words to express the admiration he felt for Peterkin.
“It is with deep sadness and utter shock I accept the passing of my friend Sheriff Hubert Peterkin. I don’t have words to reflect my admiration and appreciation to Sheriff Peterkin for his professionalism as the Sheriff, and his friendship. He will be missed by many.”
Hoke’s State Senator, Sen. Ben Clark III, said that Peterkin’s passing was an “incredible shock” to the Hoke County family and law enforcement community.
“Since 2002, Sheriff Peterkin served as Hoke’s chief law enforcement officer and did so with a seriousness, professionalism, and love of community that was second to none,” Clark said in a statement. “Every day, Sheriff Peterkin rewrote the narrative about citizens’ interactions with police, by providing the most respectful service to everyone he encountered, and requiring everyone in his office to do the same.”
“Beyond the professional accolades, Hubert was a loving husband to Della, an outstanding father, and a committed family man. He was active in his church and deeply devoted to his community. Hoke County history was important to him, and he worked every day to continue its great legacy. Sheriff Peterkin was the best type of law enforcement officer and elected official – one who truly cared,” Clark wrote.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper remarked on the sheriff’s death, saying he was saddened to learn of his passing.
“He worked diligently to protect the people of his county in addition to making a significant difference for good in public safety throughout our state as President of the N.C. Sheriffs Association. We will miss him and his leadership and we grieve for his family,” Cooper wrote on Facebook.
An outpouring of support also came from other sheriffs as his colleagues learned of Peterkin’s passing. Peterkin was a prominent figure among law enforcement agencies in North Carolina, and many who knew him spoke up to honor him.
“Sending all our love, support, prayers and deepest condolences to the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office & the family of Sheriff Hubert Peterkin,” Sheriff Ennis W. Wright of Cumberland County wrote on Facebook.
“May God give his family, friends, law enforcement and his agency strength as I ask for prayers for all. Not only have I lost a friend, Hoke County has lost a great leader,” Sheriff Burnis Wilkins of Robeson County wrote.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of another great leader, a mentor and my friend Sheriff Hubert Peterkin of Hoke County. Sheriff Peterkin was a dedicated servant leader and a mentor to all Sheriffs,” Sheriff Chip Hughes of Craven County wrote. “He always answered my calls for guidance and assistance and I will miss my good friend and fellow Sheriff. God bless you sir!”
Countless others including Hoke County Schools, local court officials, state and national organizations and others touched by Peterkin’s life and long career continued sharing their own messages of support and respect this week.
A lifetime of service
Peterkin served as Hoke County’s Sheriff for nearly 20 years over five four-year terms in office. He announced a bid earlier this year to seek a sixth consecutive term in the 2022 elections.
Peterkin worked in law enforcement for more than 34 years with a career that started with the Fayetteville Police Department, and eventually brought him back home to Hoke County – where he was born and raised – to lead the sheriff’s office.
During his time as sheriff, Hoke County built a new jail, renovated the sheriff’s office, more than doubled the number of sheriff’s office personnel, upgraded equipment and bought body cameras for officers.
In his years of service, Peterkin worked with deputies as they investigated high-profile criminal cases, battled illegal drug activity, strived to prevent gang activity and worked to expand public safety as Hoke County experienced an unprecedented population boom.
With Peterkin’s focused support and the efforts of hard-working staff, in 2011 the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office became only the fifth agency in North Carolina to earn national certification through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
Earlier this year, Peterkin worked with the Hoke County Commissioners to raise deputy pay for new hires and current staff members. The pay raise had a tremendous impact on morale, as well as recruiting and retention of deputies, the sheriff said at the time.
Peterkin previously served as president of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association (NCSA). He was sworn in to office in 2015. Over 400 people, many of them from Hoke County, traveled to Sunset Beach to attend the banquet. In a surprise presentation at the ceremony, the sheriff also received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and the key to the city of Raeford.
During that presentation, Peterkin expressed his thanks to God and to his family. When he was a teenager, his life had been headed in a totally different direction, he said. His father died when he was just 13, but his uncle, the late radio broadcaster and church deacon James Peterkin, took him under his wing and offered guidance. And his mother always believed in him, Peterkin said.
After the end of his term with the NCSA, Peterkin served as past president. He continued his work with the NCSA coordinating efforts with sheriffs across the state and legislators in Raleigh to support law enforcement in North Carolina.
In his personal life, Peterkin was a husband and father with close ties to the Hoke County community. He was well known from youth for his singing and songwriting.
In 1995 while working as a school resource officer at E.E. Smith High School, Peterkin wrote an original song “He Stood For Our Future” in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was able to perform the song at a Black History Month program with a special guest speaker present: King’s son, Martin Luther King III. Peterkin released a video of the song on social media earlier this year in honor of King’s birthday.
“I wanted people to see different cultures working together, marching together, with law enforcement…showing the good in the world instead of all the ugliness we’re seeing right now,” he said in an interview this past January. “I believe that his dream is needed more today than ever. The dream still lives on. It’s, in my mind, I don’t think there’s a song or a monument big enough to show just how high he stood.”
Peterkin was also a published author, with his book “How To Stop For a Cop” explaining how citizens can know what to expect during a traffic stop. He worked to improve relations between law enforcement and the community during his years in office.
The sheriff pursued further higher education and went on to complete his doctoral degree in management from Phoenix University in 2020.
Peterkin took to a televised church pulpit in front of millions of people last year, as Hoke County was host to a memorial service for George Floyd. In remarks at the service, Peterkin called for law enforcement around the world to clean house.
“There’s a lot of good police officers in this world, all over this world. We couldn’t have done this today if we didn’t have them. But we can’t afford to have one or two percent doing the mess that we’re doing right now. We walk around with all this power, and there needs to be some house cleaning. I didn’t say spring-cleaning, spring-cleaning is when you’re dusting and spraying. You need to take out the trash,” he said. “Enough is enough. I’m telling law enforcement all over the world, if you see that mess, get it out of your house.”
After learning of Peterkin’s death Friday, members of the Floyd family with the George Floyd Memorial Center in Raleigh offered words of comfort to his loved ones.
Even after 19 years in office, Peterkin was still excited to be sheriff. In an interview this past July announcing his plans to run for another term in office, Peterkin spoke about how much he loved the people of Hoke County and appreciated the chance to continue serving.
“I always said if this job ever got to the point where all I could do is come sit down…but I can’t do that. There’s a lot of things that we can do. I’m still excited,” Peterkin said. “And to be able to make a difference, we see the difference that we’re making in this county with this administration. I’m just as excited as being sheriff as I was before. I love this county, I love the people.”
[This story was updated October 26, 2021.]