If only one thing was on display Saturday at the Mississippi Coliseum, it was the heart of the man everyone had gathered there to celebrate.
It was a funeral service, no doubt, but it was also an outpouring in so many voices of how loved, appreciated, and respected Sheriff Lee Vance still is, even in death.
He was larger than life, everyone agreed, and most of the speakers spoke with a personal affection and loyalty for the man who for a time, changed the face of law enforcement in Jackson. The long-lasting ripple effect of Vance’s influence has yet to be seen.
One by one, the speakers described a man of integrity and courage, a man of forgiveness and heart, who could be gentle and firm at the same time. He was everyone’s friend, and many felt he was their best friend.
Vance was appointed Jackson Police Chief in 2014 by then-Mayor Tony Yarber after serving for years as assistant chief, took a short break after a mutual decision between he and the next mayor that it was time for him to retire. He then came back to run for Sheriff of Hinds County.
But that was only part of who he was. His friends, like Jackson Multimedia Coordinator Jay Johnson, spoke of his profound love for Lanier High School, the “833” sign he would throw and how he would walk into a room and bark, “833 Lanier Bulldogs in the house!” He was a proud Jackson State University graduate, and classmates from both institutions and from their rivals told stories of his ability to smack talk anybody about who was the best.
In one word, though, it was his love that people responded to, whether it was as a mentor or friend in their personal life or as a trusted superior in law enforcement in general.
“We don’t know the hours he spent with us,” said Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. “We don’t know how many people he protected, how much safer we were because of his efforts. And how much he cared for each of us that lived in this county and in this state.”
Vance was dedicated to making his hometown a better place. Vance grew up on Wood Street in the Georgetown area of Jackson.
“He loved his family, he loved his city. He could have gone anywhere and excelled,” said his high school friend Dennis Dupree. “But he chose to stay and serve his hometown and make it better.”
Those who served under him spoke of a powerful personality — one who wanted to learn Hinds County and would see people in their yard and stop the car to get out and talked to them. He had a genuine and unique laugh that was unmistakable, said Undersheriff Allen White.
“He loved Hinds County, he loved being the chief of police, and he loved being the sheriff,” White said. “He was my mentor, he was my boss for many many years, and above all, he was my friend.”
Capt. Tyree Jones served under Vance at both JPD and Hinds County. He said he remembers noticing and respecting Vance from the time he was a teenager.
“I remember the moment I noticed Lee Vance when I was a kid in high school,” he said, describing going to college and then coming back to be a police officer at Precinct 2. “A few years later we learned that Lee Vance, an individual I had admired for so many years, was coming to be our precinct commander. I remember the joy and happiness that I felt knowing that the person I’d admired for so long, I’d be working so closely with.”
The two fell into a friendship and a mentoring role, and Jones said Vance became something of a father figure to him. He mentioned times that he made bad decisions, and Vance stood by him, but at the same time made it clear that if he had to discipline him, he would.
“I remember a time that I had failed Lee Vance, and he called me in his office and we had a long discussion,” Jones said. “I also remember I went home and I wasn’t even in the house good before Lee Vance was calling me to check on me to make sure that I was good. That’s the type of person I call a mentor and a friend.”
Yarber, now a pastor, stepped up to speak about the chief he called “the best political decision he ever made.” A giant leader should inspire a giant movement, he said.
“The giant movement that has to happen is one where we all realize that we ain’t nothing without each other. It’s one that says the only way that we’re going to do this and be successful is if we do it together,” Yarber said. “Lee’s integrity went beyond the myriad of messiness that is in politics because he had the heart of the people in his hand.”
Yarber pointed to the passage in the Bible in which someone had asked of Jesus, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Yarber turned that question to Wood Street, Georgetown, Lanier, and Jackson. The answer, he said, is a resounding yes.
“I come to declare to you today that he is the embodiment of what Jackson is, and his name is Lee Dan Vance. You ought to celebrate knowing that God gave you the privilege of knowing a giant in your lifetime,” Yarber said, raising his voice. “Would you celebrate God for giving us the opportunity of knowing one of the greatest men that you are ever going to know in your lifetime? And I repeat: His name is Lee Dan Vance.”
There had been a movement on social media started by Yarber and pushed by White and several other friends of Vance’s to name Jackson Police Department after him. Lumumba told the crowd that the building will bear his name.
“Sheriff Vance was love,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. “He was the embodiment of what it means to love one another, and he was the reflection of the love that we should all have for one another.”
Vance’s son in law, Alliott Green, and his son Lee Vance III spoke of what it was like to be the sons of a man of such integrity. Green called on Jones and White to carry on Vance’s legacy at the Sheriff’s Department.
“He ran a good race. Those that knew him knew he was a man of patience, his words were short and direct, and he was a convicted person,” he said. “I can only pray … that you guys would lead and direct Pop’s legacy and carry on where he started.”
Lee Vance III called for “all my brothers” to come to the front until the stage was full of men that, in some way or another, Vance had been a father figure to.
“I just want yall to know,” Vance III said. “We shared my father with you all. He was dedicated, solid sa a rock to this city and this state. We shared him with you.”
He said that was a sacrifice the elder Vance was well aware of.
“He asked me, ‘Son, how do you feel because I know I worked a lot and I missed out on some things I should have been there for, and I just want to know how you feel,'” Vance III said of his father. “I looked him in his eyes and said, I feel the love you always gave me because I understand.”
As the sheriff was taken out of the coliseum, seven law enforcement officers lined up outside to give him a 21-gun salute before he made his final journey. It was a sendoff befitting the hero he was.
Vance’s body is buried at Johnson Cemetery in Jackson. His legacy is eternal.