ALBEMARLE — Former Stanly County Sheriff Ralph McSwain, the county’s longest-serving sheriff, died at 91 on March 24. Soon after, there was an outpouring of sympathy from law enforcement and everyday citizens.
The Stanly County Sheriff’s Office posted on their social media, “It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Sheriff Ralph Lee McSwain. Sheriff McSwain was known by many not only in Stanly County but across this state. Sheriff McSwain will be missed but will always remain in our hearts as our Sheriff.”
Other local law enforcement agencies also expressed their condolences. “The Locust Police Department sends our department’s sympathies to the family of former Stanly County Sheriff Ralph McSwain who at 28 years is the longest serving Sheriff in Stanly County history. Thank you for your service and contributions to Stanly County.”
McSwain’s funeral was held at Green Memorial United Methodist Church, where he was a member, on March 27. He was buried at Rehobeth Methodist Church Cemetery with honors by the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office. Rev. David Lowe and Rev. Ron Drye officiated the service.
McSwain was born in Stanly County in 1930 and lived in Norwood. He was a veteran of the Army Reserves and served as sheriff of Stanly County for 28 years, the longest ever for a sheriff from the county.
McSwain served on the N.C. Sheriff’s Association’s original Training and Standards Commission and also on the N.C. State Contractor’s Licensing Board.
In his spare time, McSwain was a wood worker and “master craftsman” who was a licensed contractor. He was also heavily involved as a Freemason, being a past master of Albemarle Lodge #703 and a master mason.
Many praised McSwain for his Christian faith, solid moral character and kind spirit.
“Sheriff Ralph McSwain hired me in 1980 as the first female deputy sheriff to work outside the office. Also I am African American,” one woman said in an online tribute. “He was the most kind, considerate person to work with. I will always be grateful to him for starting me on a career path that lasted thirty years. To his wife Pat and family I pray God give you comfort and strength at this difficult time.”
The Stanly County History Center posted on social media, “Thank you Sheriff McSwain for your many years of service to Stanly County,” along with an black-and-white photo of him.
Before the funeral and burial, McSwain had lain in state at the Stanly County Ralph L. McSwain Detention Center from noon until 2 p.m. In 2019, the Stanly County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to name the county’s detention center after him.
He is survived by Patricia “Pat” Van Hoy McSwain, his wife of 42 years.