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Former police chief given final salute

Former Blowing Rock Police chief Owen Tolbert, seen here in a 2002 Blowing Rocket photo with his grandson Parker Tolbert, died Friday. File photo
Former Blowing Rock Police chief Owen Tolbert, seen here in a 2002 Blowing Rocket photo with his grandson Parker Tolbert, died Friday. File photo
Published: 9:02 AM, 12/20/2012

Source: The Blowing Rocket

Few people have served their hometowns with the dedication and heart that James Owen Tolbert served Blowing Rock.

Tolbert retired from the Blowing Rock Police Department in 2006 after 24 years of service as both an officer and chief of police.

Tolbert died on Dec. 14 at 65.

“Owen was a mentor to me both personally and professionally,” said current BRPD Chief Eric Brown. “I started in 1991 and became chief when Owen retired, so we got to know each other very well. He treated myself and all of his staff extremely well, like family really. But that’s the way he treated everyone.”

Tolbert was born in Watauga County in 1947, the son of  Langston Owen and Irene Hartley Tolbert.
In addition to his service as chief of the Blowing Rock Police Department, he was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

Hundreds of friends, family and well-wishers attended Tolbert’s funeral service, which was held at Blowing Rock’s First Baptist Church on Tuesday.

“Owen was always so wonderful to the historical society,” said Ginny Stevens, with the Blowing Rock Historical Society.

“He would coordinate the traffic flow for anything we wanted to do. He was a wonderful guy and a true community citizen. They hired him to stop all the robberies in the winter, and he was such a nice guy that I had doubts that he could stop the bad guys. But he turned out to be terribly competent at this job. We were all sad to see him go,” Stevens said.

“Owen became police chief in May of 1991 and led our police department for the next 15 years,” said BRPD Capt. Aaron Miller.

“As a police chief, Owen was well-respected by his officers and staff, as well as the folks in our community,” Miller said.

“Owen was far more than a police officer and police chief. Owen was a husband, father, uncle, cousin and, to most of us, a friend. Owen was our friend. Those of you who knew him knew that he was always upbeat, always friendly and someone you could count on. Owen liked to have fun and was someone you enjoyed seeing out in town.”

Tolbert is survived by his wife, Judi Payne Tolbert; one daughter, Michelle Tolbert Helton and husband, Iain, of Blowing Rock; a daughter-in-law, Melanie Tolbert of Macon, Ga.; three grandchildren, Graham Helton, Parker Tolbert and Megan Helton; one brother, Donald Tolbert and wife, Janice, of Blowing Rock; four sisters, Dorothy Price of Blowing Rock, Louise Hood of Richmond, Va., Mary “Polly” Dacus of Leominster, Mass., and Shirley Edmisten and husband, Baxter of Blowing Rock; three sisters-in-law, Verleen Greene of Lenoir, Jean Clontz of Boone and Joyce Payne of Mt. Airy; three brothers-in-law, Claude Harmon of Lexington, Arlan Ford of Lenoir and H. T. Rogers of Boone; and a host of nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his father and mother, Langston Owen and Irene Hartley Tolbert; a son, James Owen Tolbert II; one brother; Edward “Buddy” Tolbert; two sisters, Mozelle Ford and Edna Harmon; and four brothers-in-law, Marvin Hood, Kermit Dacus, Byron Clontz and Charlie Price.

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