Waveland Mayor Mike Smith said former Hancock County Sheriff Ronnie Peterson was an “icon of Hancock County.”
“He was a great man and a great leader,” Smith said.
Peterson died Thursday after a brief battle with cancer. Edmond Fahey Funeral Home in Bay St. Louis is in charge of the services, but arrangements are incomplete.
On Friday, friends and family of the late sheriff took to social media to pay their respects. His daughter, Wendy Peterson Byrd, called him a “hero” in a Facebook post.
“The cancer took him down within about a year,” Smith said. “He was in stage 4 when they found it.”
Peterson, who had served in the U.S. Marine Corps, was the longest serving sheriff in Hancock County. He was sheriff for 20 years, from 1980-2000.
Smith said Peterson was something of a mentor to him when he worked at the sheriff’s department.
“I worked for him in the early 1990s, and he took me under his wing,” Smith said. “He was a great sheriff.”
He said Peterson taught him that people were the most important part of his job at the sheriff’s office.
“When I first started working under Sheriff Peterson, he told me not to go out and ‘write a bunch of tickets’ because we were there to ‘help the public,’” Smith said. “I probably didn’t write more than two tickets the entire time I was with the sheriff’s office.”
Smith said the last time he saw his friend was in June at the Waveland Community Unity Organization's first responder appreciation banquet in Bay St. Louis. An award was created in Peterson’s name.
“He was a very good man,” Smith said. “He was a leader when I met him and remained a leader until the end.”