Melinda Harr of Springfield and her neighbor Marianna Alger stood alongside Highway 21 Saturday morning, watching the procession of vehicles for Deputy Lee Witt’s funeral.
They each held a small American flag. Harr kept her hand over her heart as the parade of vehicles, many of them from local law enforcement agencies, passed by on their way to the cemetery.
Harr said she knew of Witt only casually through her granddaughter Emily. Alger didn’t know him at all.
However, they were both moved to pay their respects to a man who served his country in the U.S. Army and his community as a Rincon Police officer and Effingham County Sheriff’s deputy.
“People like that need to be honored,” Alger said.
Michael Lee Witt Sr. — “Lee” to those who knew him — died unexpectedly last Wednesday. He was 49 years old.
“It was just like a kick in the stomach,” said Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie.
Witt worked for the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office for the past five years, following 10 years with the Rincon Police Department. ECSO cars led the procession from Thomas C. Strickland & Sons Funeral Home to Effingham Memorial Gardens, and Rincon Police cars escorted the hearse carrying Witt’s body.
“He’s going to be missed, greatly,” McDuffie said. “He was a good guy.”
The sheriff called Witt “as much of a friend as an employee.” McDuffie said he enjoyed being around Witt, who could be counted on to keep the mood light at the office.
“Lee could always find something humorous, something funny about any situation,” McDuffie said. “He didn’t get very serious very often, unless it was an occasion that he had to.”
While Witt’s job was important to him, McDuffie said, he never made it a bigger priority than his family. Witt treasured the time he spent with wife Teresa and children Michael Lee Witt Jr., Anna Gaccione, Mark Bartholomew Jr., Crystal Ann Bartholomew and Nathaniel Witt.
“He was one of these guys who gave 100 percent to his law enforcement family as well as 100 percent to his personal family,” McDuffie said, “and he was always able to juggle the two and give 100 percent to both. He was able to do both equally well.”
Witt was described as a “one-of-a-kind person” in the ECSO’s Facebook announcement of his death. People from throughout the community added their sentiments.
“Thank you for helping keep Effingham County safe,” wrote Susie Wells.
“Officer Lee will surely be missed,” Mandy Reed posted. “He has helped and served our community and touched so many lives. I always saw him with a smile on his face regardless of the situation and was always helpful. He will be missed, but never forgotten.”