Tom Horst was feted Friday as a good boss, a dependable co-worker, an honorable public servant – and someone whose perfect hair was the envy of all who knew him and the subject of more than one story told Friday amid peals of laughter, along with serious reflection on Horst’s long career in public service.
Horst was the guest of honor at a “roast and toast” in the Highland County Common Pleas Courtroom, with Judge Rocky Coss serving as master of ceremonies. A packed courtroom of friends, family and former coworkers, some of whom came from several miles away, congratulated the former bus driver, police officer and sheriff on his retirement from the Highland County Commission after eight years in that post. In all, Horst’s public service has spanned more than 40 years.
Coss opened the ceremonies by seating Horst in the witness chair and then handing him a donut cushion to make the seat more comfortable.
Coss, who was county prosecutor when Horst was sheriff, remarked on an opinion shared over the years by most people who knew Horst and which became a running commentary throughout the afternoon – that Horst had “the best hair of any politician I’ve ever seen.”
Coss then produced a comb and did something he said he had wanted to do for 40 years, combing Horst’ hair downward into a messy coif quite different than the perfect slicked-back style usually worn by the commissioner.
Several acquaintances and former coworkers took turns sharing Horst stories, including former Hillsboro Police Chief Nick Thompson, who said he and Horst had been through “good times and bad times,” and told tales from the days when the two both worked for HPD, including a story of escaped feeder calves, and working on a task force project on Thompson’s wedding anniversary.
Thompson also noted that Horst “was not a cap kind of guy” and resisted following orders to wear his police cap in order to maintain his carefully combed hair.
Sheriff Donnie Barrera, who was hired at the sheriff’s office by Horst in 1993, commented on Horst’s susceptibility to attractive saleswomen – “That’s right!” Horst’s wife, Maggi, piped in from the gallery – who often managed to sell the then-sheriff gadgets or equipment that were sometimes not entirely practical.
Among those items was a strobe light designed to be worn on deputies’ shoulders, an example of which Barrera produced on Friday, saying he had saved it for such an occasion.
But on a serious note, Barrera called Horst “one of the best bosses I ever had,” and presented him with a plaque.
Horst’s fellow commissioner, Shane Wilkin, who was elected to the post in 2008, the same year as Horst, said Horst had been a good partner during the tough financial times when they first took office. He shared a story he said Horst has often told – that when Horst first met his future wife, Maggi asked him, “Is that a helmet or is that your hair?”
Wilkin presented Horst with a bag filled with restaurant coupons as a reminder of how tight the county budget has usually been.
Ann Abernathy Morris, a Hillsboro City Council member who attended Lynchburg-Clay when Horst was a school bus driver there in the 1970s, sent a message on Friday read by her brother recalling that her classmate, Lori Wickline, “introduced us Lynchburg girls to Tom as being the hottest school bus driver ever. We all fell in love with his perfect hair.”
U.S. Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-2nd Dist.) and state Sen. Bob Peterson (R-17th Dist.) were on hand Friday. Wenstrup said that when he decided to run for office he was told that one of the first people he should talk to was Horst, adding, “Then they said, well, maybe you should talk to his wife.” He praised Horst for his years of service and presented him with a resolution that he said had been entered into the Congressional Record.
Horst said that he first ran for office after a 1975 incident when it took the sheriff’s office two days to respond, and he was told, “Horst, why aren’t you sheriff?” He ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary in 1976, but after serving with police departments in Lynchburg and Hillsboro, he eventually won the sheriff’s office 12 years later and was reelected twice.
Horst thanked several individuals who were in attendance, including former Hillsboro mayors Betty Bishop and Dick Zink, along with his commission staff and his former administrative assistant in the sheriff’s office, Pat Brannock – “Pat kept me straight,” said Horst – and others who were not present.
He said the current members of the county commission, including Wilkin and Jeff Duncan, have been “a good group to work with,” and also thanked Gary Heaton and Jeremy Shaffer, former commissioners with whom he served.
Joined by his wife, Maggi, his granddaughter, Maggi Beth Schmidt, and a great niece, Katey Narcross, in front of the large audience, Horst said it had been an honor to serve the public, and he enjoyed his years in whatever capacity he was able to serve.
“We’ll be around,” said Horst, with his arm around his wife. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.