Retired Gaston County Sheriff Leroy Russell died early Thursday in hospice care. He was 72.
“He was my good friend and mentor,” said Alan Cloninger, who was appointed sheriff in 2004 after Russell retired. “I always respected him. He taught me that working for the people was a great honor.”
Russell, a Gaston County native, had worked as a driver’s license examiner and funeral director before being elected sheriff in 1982.
During his tenure as sheriff, he safely evacuated 120 prisoners when a November 1998 fire gutted the old Gaston County courthouse. He lobbied for building a $20.7 million jail and increased the hours of the sheriff’s office to round-the-clock staffing. Pay and training improved under his direction.
Cloninger said Russell retired because of a congestive heart condition that worsened over the years. He died in Gaston Hospice’s Robinson Johnson House in Dallas.
“He was a great sheriff and great public servant for the citizens of Gaston County,” Cloninger said. “He’ll be missed.”
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.