Life-changing impact

When I recently saw this photo on Facebook of Scott County Sheriff Raymond Hardy from the 1970s, a couple of things came to my mind.

First, what a great photo of a lawman. Hardy was sheriff from 1971 to 1978.

Secondly, it reminded me of some of the great stories I’ve heard about him over the years, a man greatly respected by many in Southern Indiana.

Hardy was born in 1920 and was a World War II veteran, earning the rank of first sergeant. He was a huge, strong man. Just look at his hand in the photo. His presence demanded attention. Whether he liked it or not, he was one of those people who took over a room when he entered it.

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Former Scottsburg Police Chief Pete Byrne once told me that Hardy could solve trouble faster than anyone.

“When Raymond pulled up, the trouble was over real fast,” Byrne said. “People knew either not to mess with him or they just liked him, so they stopped doing what they were doing.”

Hardy passed away in July 2000, but his legacy remains strong. When people who knew Hardy talk about him today, they note his physical strength and his love of people in general. Like I mentioned earlier, there are lots of stories about him and how he impacted many lives, and this is a true story of one of those stories.

In the mid-1970s, an assistant high school principal and a varsity basketball coach thought it might be best if a troubled young teen visited with the local sheriff, a man named Raymond Hardy. The teenager didn’t really know Hardy, but he heard he was big and tough and wasn’t looking forward to the meeting.

The teenager was dropped off at the sheriff’s office, where he went inside and told the dispatcher why he was there. He was told to have a seat and the sheriff would be with him soon.

As the teenager sat waiting next to the sheriff’s office, he could hear Hardy through the closed door talking on the phone. He sounded nice enough. He was laughing and sounded like a nice guy.

When that call was over, the sheriff took another call, and all of a sudden, the atmosphere changed. Sheriff Hardy didn’t seem to be in a very good mood anymore.

As the teenager sat there nervously, several people passed him in the waiting room. No one was smiling. This went on for about 45 minutes, and with each passing minute, the teenager became more nervous and even thought about running out of the office.

Finally, the door opened, and Hardy directed the teen to come on in. It was an awkward meeting, for sure — the teen a nervous wreck in front of a John-Wayne-type of personality in Hardy, who now just happened to be in a bad mood. The teen wanted to tell the sheriff, “If this meeting is supposed to scare the hell out of me, you don’t have to say anything because it already has,” but the teen kept quiet.

The teen was surprised when the sheriff started talking about baseball and basketball to him because this is what the teen loved more than anything. Before long, the teenager was talking away, and not just about sports.

A short time later, the sheriff asked the teen if he was hungry. The teen said no, of course, but the sheriff just smiled and said, “Sure you are. Let’s go get something to eat.” So the two of them left in the sheriff’s car, and the teen was riding up front for the very first time in a police car.

After the sheriff bought the teenager’s lunch and the teen told the sheriff his life story, they returned to the sheriff’s office. At this point, not once had the sheriff mentioned any trouble the teen had been in. And as they stood on the sidewalk saying goodbye to each other, the sheriff did something that left a lasting impression on the teen. The sheriff looked the teen straight in the eyes and placed his thick, huge left hand on the teen’s right shoulder and said, “Now, boy, don’t you get in any more trouble, you hear me?”

As the years passed, the teen became a man, and he often looked back on his lunch with the sheriff with great appreciation.

About 20 years later, after that summer day in the mid-1970s, the teen now a man ran into Hardy in front of Hardy’s Café in Scottsburg. The retired sheriff called out to the man, and after a short, friendly conversation, it happened again.

Sheriff Hardy slowly raised his huge left hand, rested it on the man’s right shoulder and looked him straight in the eyes and said, “I’m proud of you.” And in 2015, those four short words uttered around 1995 still mean an awful lot to the hungry teenager from 1975.