Former Highland County Sheriff Comes From Stalwart Mountain Family
Monterey, VA – Herbert R. Lightner served with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office for nearly three decades. He was hired as a deputy in 1981 and elected sheriff in 1986, with 93% of the vote. He did not run for re-election last year and retired on January 1.
Lightner says his ancestors were stalwart farmers from Bath County.
“All my family were from the Back Creek area and Mountain Grove,” he said.
“I know my granddad, from stories, started out in a house and it burnt and he made the chicken house a house. It burnt and he made the hog pen a house. So, with limited resources, they did what they had to do to survive.”
“My mom was a Harold, grew up on Back Creek,” he said. “Her dad’s name was Bob Harold, who was quite a character, well-known throughout the community. He had milk cows, farmed and mowed cemeteries and hauled coal and did various jobs to support his family.”
“My dad was a farmer and a bus driver. So, he was off all summer to make hay. We farmed from, when I was a kid, 10 years old, 600 cuts off of [Route] 84, clear to where the dam is now. Which was all square bales – hard work.”
The sheriff tells why his family had to move from their homeplace on Back Creek.
“In ’72 they started the Bath County Pumped Storage project and they bought our farm,” he said. “We had a family farm down there. We had to relocate and, at that time in ’72, we relocated to Vanderpool.”
Lightner says he enjoyed his years at Highland High School, but didn’t have time for school sports.
“I just barely got by,” he said. “To be honest with you, I could have done a lot better. I had fun. We just didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t have time or money because we had milk cows, hogs, chickens. You had chores that you had to get done. We’d get together with all the people in Vanderpool, waiting on the hay to dry or whatever, and play baseball or play basketball in the wintertime in the barn.”
The future sheriff suffered a personal tragedy in 1977, graduated from high school, and soon found himself on the other side of the globe.
“That same year, I was in a wreck and two of my friends got killed, over in Bartow, West Virginia,” he said. “Soon after, I left for the Army and went to Missouri for basic training, and went to Fort Huachuca, Arizona for AIT – advanced individual training – and then, I got orders to go to Korea.”
Lightner was assigned as a military intelligence specialist, monitoring activities in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
“It surprised me how important my job was in Korea and how much information they allowed me to have,” he said. “I worked with the Korean soldiers and I got a great many commendations from over there. Just being a private, we briefed generals and that type of thing. So, I came home from there and had orders to go to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. We trained with the 82nd Airborne.”
Lightner rose in rank to sergeant in three years, but decided to return home to Highland County, where he found jobs scarce.
“Jobs were scarce, so Mr. Reynolds gave me a job at the elementary school as a janitor, which is the best job I ever had, but it didn’t pay much,” he said. “Then, VEPCO, I sort of missed the major part of the construction, but I got a job with security for two months. Then, they had a reduction in force and the sheriff here, who was Milton Ralston, in ’81 he hired a deputy and a dispatcher and I got one and the other guy got the dispatcher job.”
Lightner says he had a lot to learn when he started as a deputy in 1981.
“I come to work, didn’t know much about it,” he said. “At that time, we had three dispatchers, three jailers and two road deputies. Prior to ’79, you bought your own police car. One guy had a Toyota pickup – that was his police car.”
Tune in next Thursday for Part Two of a three-part story on Sheriff Lightner’s career — when he talks about his his early years as Highland County Sheriff.