LOOKING BACK: Otis Blythe — Franklin PD

Published 6:16 pm Monday, July 31, 2023

On Aug. 2, 1973, nearly 50 years ago, Sergeant Otis M. Blythe of the City of Franklin Police Department announced that he would be retiring – at the age of 55 – on Sep. 1, 1973, after almost 30 years of service. For all those years, Franklin residents had come to depend on Sgt. Blythe as a friend and one of the most fair-minded law officers in the area.

A native of Sedley, and a giant of a man, Sgt. Blythe quickly earned the nickname of “Big Law” when he joined the Franklin Police Department on June 1, 1944. “I’d rather wait and talk to Big Law,” a small elderly man shook his head as he stood in the city police station a few years prior to Sgt. Blythe’s retirement. “Big Law will help me.” 

Otis Blythe had spent most of his life farming but soon proved himself one of the most capable investigating officers anywhere in the area.

Just prior to his retirement, an interview with Carol Bishop with The Tidewater News gave Sergeant Blythe an opportunity to reflect on his time with the Franklin Police Department: 

Sgt. Blythe recalled that it was Dr. Jordan B. Powell, a Franklin City Councilman in 1944, who talked him into becoming a Franklin police officer. “I was going to work in Suffolk to work and needed one more letter of recommendation, so I stopped by Dr. Powell’s office. He had known me all my life,” Blythe recalled. “Instead of writing up a letter of recommendation, he persuaded me to join the Franklin force since more officers were needed there. I was hired that morning, sworn in that afternoon, and put to work that night.” 

  1. B. Pratt was the Franklin police chief at the time, and Willie Burrow was the Town Sergeant.

“Back in those days, (during World War II), the U. S. Navy was operating the airport (as the Franklin Naval Air Auxiliary Base). We had five police officers with only two men on each 12-hour shift,” remembered Blythe. “Those guys at the Naval Base kept us pretty busy.” (On a Saturday night they could get pretty rowdy— Franklin had become a Navy town.) “We had no radios, and every time something came up, we would have to run to the nearest phone.”

In 1950, it was “Big Law” who cracked the Lloyd Junius Dobie case. Dobie was convicted of rape and robbery at Lyon’s State Theater and sentenced to die in the electric chair. At that time, he was the only man from the Franklin area to receive capital punishment.

“Violence has actually decreased in Franklin in the last few years,” he noted. “Better living conditions have played an important part in this. Another reason crimes such as cuttings and shootings have decreased is because people are becoming more educated.”

Blythe was quick to praise Franklin’s young people. “I sincerely believe we have one of the most well-behaved groups of youngsters anywhere in the country, Blythe observed. “I’m sure court statistics will bear this out. The only trouble most kids get into involves minor traffic violations.” 

“I’ll miss the contact I’ve had with my good friends who work for the city, and all the people I’ve worked with over the last 30 years,” Blythe commented. “I’ve enjoyed serving the people of the Franklin community and I appreciate the cooperation they’ve given me.

Continued the sergeant, “I’ll continue to serve my community as a good citizen, and I plan to join the sales staff of Citizens Home Insurance Company in Franklin.

The many organizations in which he was involved include the Franklin Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rites Bodies, and Khedive Temple Shrine. And, for many years, he was a teacher of the Bruner Bible Class at Franklin Baptist Church – and, from time-to-time, was a guest preacher at many other churches in the area. 

NOTE: During the 1980s, Otis Blythe was employed at Franklin Equipment Company as a security officer; and, for a period of time, was an assistant in the Personnel Department. From there he retired again. He passed away in 1989.

Otis Blythe was a son of Florence Mumford of Sedley and Emmett McKinley Blythe and was married to the former Louise March of Holland – all deceased. They had one daughter, Katherine “Kitty” Denson who was married to Jack Denson – both deceased. 

Granddaughter Angela Denson resides in Franklin and is employed as a real estate agent with Century 21.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net.