Fifty is an important number in Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd’s life this year. In addition to 2022 marking his 50th anniversary at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, on Sept. 16, Marisa and Grady Judd will celebrate 50 years of marriage.
The couple met when they were 17 and she walked into the office of the ambulance service where he was working. He immediately knew he would marry her and she said she knew by their first date that he was something special.
Marisa Judd said her husband adores their sons, Trae, 44, and Graham, 42, along with their 13 grandchildren. Trae works for Publix as a grocery manager. Graham, whom Judd described as a “wild child” growing up, is now a paramedic in Indiana, an ordained minister and is getting his doctorate in strategic leadership at Liberty University. Judd said he’s proud of them.
LkldNow is looking at the career of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who is celebrating 50 years at the Sheriff’s Office and his 50th wedding anniversary. This is the final installment of a five-part series.
“He loves those grandkids and he is great with them. He’s patient — a lot more patient most of the time than even I am and there’s nothing to me like those grandkids,” Marisa Judd said. “We took four of them on vacation and I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Judd said he simply could not do his job without the love and support of his family.
“Being sheriff is not — it’s not a career, it’s a way of life,” Judd said. “If your family is not bought into this, you can’t be successful in this. People not in this industry don’t understand the stress it puts on a family. I don’t know anything else. I don’t know a normal lifestyle. I love it.”
GRADY JUDD: 50 YEARS IN LAW ENFORCEMENT
- Part 1: Early days — as a young child, he knew he wanted to be sheriff
- Part 2: Closing adult businesses, assessing previous sheriffs, bolstering leadership
- Part 3: Controversies: body cams, juvenile detention. Priority one: protect children
- Part 4: Becoming a national figure; coping with deputy deaths
- Part 5: Celebrating another anniversary: 50 years of marriage
On July 6, he was up at 4:30 a.m., checking work emails and ordering a drone for his 13-year-old grandson and namesake as a reward for accomplishing his summer reading goal, “The Hobbit.” And that’s after being up until 11 p.m. the night before checking messages and staying on top of law enforcement trends and issues in periodicals.
Chief of Staff Steve Lester confirmed the 4:30 a.m. activity. That’s because his phone is set up to see whatever Judd is doing on his phone. In addition, Judd texted him at 4:31 a.m.
“My wife said, ‘I don’t know who’s crazy — him for sending it or you for reading it,’” said Lester, who has worked for PCSO for 37 years and been Judd’s chief of staff for 12 years.
“I’m the operations director for the sheriff’s office, so it’s my job to be interested in anything he’s concerned about,” Lester said. “This is a 24-hour job. It’s one thing to say that; it’s another thing to know it and to live it.”
At a retirement party at the jail, he said, “It’s things like this — retirement parties and breaking bread together, having meals together. The culture of family and love for one another is really what’s made this place great. It’s the sheriff who created it.”
Lester said he and Judd had similar childhoods, attending Sunday school and being raised by “God-fearing mothers and fathers.”
“We ask ourselves, ‘What would our mamas think of us?’ Our mothers were so important to us,” Lester said. “Sometimes, I’ll send him a note and say, ‘Your mama would be proud of you.’ Or ‘Our mamas would be really proud of us.’ They were our moral compass … All these years, I’ll just get so proud of him.”
Judd’s longtime administrative assistant, Tina Ward, 56, said she has been at the Sheriff’s Office for 27 years, worked with Judd in some capacity for 23 years, and with him exclusively for the last 18 years.
“He knows everything going on,” said Ward, who is married to the PCSO director of IT and has two daughters. “I’m very protective of him and his time.”
She called him a great boss and although she said they can get cranky in an office that “runs wide open all the time,” his sense of humor keeps things fun.
“Ninety-eight percent of my job is his schedule and getting him where he needs to be,” Ward said. “And he’s fun to work for because he’s so funny. He’s not afraid to take on hard issues. He doesn’t ask me to work any harder than he does himself. You want to work with someone you respect.”
She said if she could change one thing about him, it would be that he would take more time off.
“He works so many hours,” she said. “He still shocks the hell out of me some days, how much he knows, how much he cares. I listen to him on the phone sometimes because they’re unhappy with him and I’m in awe of how he handles it.”
Ward said she loves Marisa, how family-minded she is, and called Grady and Marisa Judd best “buddies.” She and Marisa agree that the sheriff quietly does a lot of things for a lot of people in need in the community, including utilizing the PCSO charity to help those who are less fortunate.
“I won’t go into details, but he does things that nobody knows he does,” Marisa Judd said. “You know, he hears about something that is happening or somebody that needs something and he makes sure that it happens, either by doing it himself or getting somebody else to do it, or he just kind of takes care of people behind the scenes, I guess is the best way to say it.”
Judd said he is still just as smitten as he was the day he saw 17-year-old Marisa Ogburn walk into the office of the ambulance service where he was working. She said she still feels the same way about him.
“I love him more today than I did then. I still feel the same, but more,” she said.
“She is the strength and the energy,” Judd said. “Why in the world she ever married me is still a mystery. She’s wicked smart, maternal. She pushes everyone in her world to get the best out of them. She’s perfect. I met her when I was 17 and I’ve loved her a little bit more every day. The reality is that she’s my heart and soul. She’s every bit as beautiful today as the day I met her. She makes me happy and she makes me confident, she makes me secure. I don’t worry about the kids or the grandkids.”
Marisa Judd worked as a legal secretary and then a judicial assistant for years and the pair invested their money in small apartment buildings in Polk County. Marisa runs the family business and tells Judd what they should buy or sell next.
The job of sheriff comes with a certain risk. Judd said he gets several credible death threats a year. Arrests are made, but they don’t publicize them
“There was one threat — the call pinged off a cell phone tower near the house,” Judd said. “I called Marissa and told her to stay in the house, lock the house. When I walked in, she’s out back, sweeping the pool. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ She reached inside her pocket and said, ‘I’ve got my gun.'”
Judd said he sometimes takes an armed deputy with him to events. But if the couple goes to something that doesn’t require security, he knows she is carrying a gun.
His soft spot for children can hit close to home. His son Graham’s wife delivered a stillborn son at about seven months pregnant several years ago. Judd said everything had been perfect at a checkup the previous Friday, but by Sunday, the baby was not moving.
Marisa was with her son and daughter-in-law and held her grandson in the delivery room. Judd said he had to leave the hospital.
“I’ve seen too many dead babies in this job,” he said.
And there have been sacrifices.
He said neither Trae nor Graham, nor any of the grandchildren, have expressed an interest to work at the Sheriff’s Office.
“One of my kids would have made a great law enforcement officer — he has the personality to be in law enforcement. He’s much more patient than I am,” Judd said of Trae. “My oldest son, Trae, on his 41st or 42nd birthday, after we cut the cake I got a call that there was an officer-involved shooting. I said, ‘I gotta go.’ And he said, ‘Some things hadn’t changed, even after 41 years.’”
Trae told his father that he would wake up in the morning and Judd would be at work and he’d still be at work when he and his brother went to bed that same night.
“It made me a little sad,” Judd said. “The whole family sacrifices for you. You put the community first.”
But he added that he did schedule their ball games like he scheduled an appointment and he coached their teams.
Graham Judd, 42, remembers things a little differently – an “all-American representation of the nuclear family.
“My dad wasn’t the sheriff until I was an adult,” Graham Judd said. “Growing up, it was like, he was already in administration, so for all intents and purposes, he worked an 8-to-5 job. Now there are times when he was involved with major crimes, homicide, narcotics, and things like that, where sometimes he would go away for two or three days at a time on undercover investigations and things like that, but for all intents and purposes, it was like having any other dad at work 9 to 5.”
Graham Judd said his dad coached his baseball teams and showed up for important events.
“I had a dad who never missed any of mine or my brother’s events. I had a dad who took us to church on Sundays. I had a dad who sat down and ate dinner with us at the dinner table. I had a dad who could go out in the yard and play with us,” Graham Judd said.
Judd’s younger son followed in his dad’s footsteps in several ways. He has been a paramedic for about 15 years, working for an ambulance service in Indiana. He also pursued higher education. He has a master of business administration from Southeastern University, a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Southeastern and an associate of science degree from Polk State College. But he is taking his education one step farther than his dad. He is working on a Ph.D. in strategic leadership from Liberty University. He is also a pastor.
Graham Judd said his dad is not pretentious and doesn’t put on airs.
“The fact of the matter is, it’s kind of what you see on TV or kind of what you see when you get to know him; that’s kind of how Dad is,” Graham Judd said. “When Dad does his press conferences, he likes to joke around and be funny, and when he’s at home, he jokes around and he’s funny.”
As for his father’s TV appearances, he remembers a time when the 5 o’clock, 5:30 and 6 p.m. newscasts were taped at his house, but not for the sake of vanity.
“He would be on TV from time to time, which was really funny because he always wanted to know how he looked on TV,” the younger Judd said. “Back then, we used to get real excited about it, you know, when he’d see himself in the newspaper, when he’d see himself on TV. But the fact is, he wasn’t so excited that he was on TV and things like that. He was more critiquing himself to determine what he could do to make himself appear more professional, more presentable and to represent law enforcement in Polk County in the best light.”
Graham Judd calls his father a wonderful granddaddy, adding that his three youngest children have figured out that if they want something, all they have to do is ask the family patriarch.
As for the father-son dynamic, Graham Judd said when he needs compassion, he calls his mother. When he needs advice, he still turns to his father.
“Much of the advice that I get from my dad is the same advice that he got from his dad” Grady Curtis Judd, Sr., who died in 2020, Graham Judd said. “And that’s even being passed on to the next generation because much of the advice that I give to my kids is the same advice that my dad gave to me. We were always taught to work hard, we were always taught to be honest, and we were always taught to do the right thing — whether anyone was watching or not. So that really hasn’t changed from me being a little bitty guy until me being, you know, a 42-year-old man. The only difference now is I probably listen a little better than I used to.”
Judd remains popular with Polk voters. He has won most of his elections by more than 95% of the vote. More than 1,300 people liked or loved part one of this series on two Polk County crime watch pages, with hundreds of people writing posts congratulating the sheriff on his 50 years in office and 50th anniversary. Fewer than half a dozen of those comments were negative.
As with any law enforcement spouse, Marisa Judd said seeing him walk out the door each day and never knowing if he will come home has been a test of faith.
“I prayed. A lot,” Marisa Judd said. “I don’t know how you get through life, much less this, without God, without faith. But regardless of what happens, it’s going to be okay.”
Marisa Judd has held two Bibles — one to be passed on to each son — at all five of his swearing-in ceremonies. He has been elected more times than any other sheriff in Polk County history. One of those Bibles sits on his desk, its place-mark ribbon nestled into chapter six of Micah: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Judd said he turns to that Bible whenever he has an important decision to make. He prays and asks for guidance.
The Judds can find it difficult to go to dinner in Polk County. It’s almost like eating with a rock star for Marisa Judd.
“I Just sit back and watch the people,” she said. “I’m thankful that he’s worldwide. I’m thankful that he’s popular. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t continue to have his job. And he loves what he does. And we don’t go out a lot to eat just because it can be difficult. We go to friends’ houses.”
She said they enjoy spending time at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where the sheriff indulges his passion for photography. Enlarged framed prints of Judd’s photographs are frequently sold at charity auctions, along with one-day ride-alongs. He said the winners of those ride-alongs see the real Grady Judd, including if he gets angry.
The Judds recently sold their family homestead on County Road 540A for about $4 million, with Judd and his sister splitting the profit from the sale of land his grandmother had inherited. They are financially comfortable, building their dream house on a lake in Polk County. And they will be able to set up nest eggs for each grandchild, something for which they’re grateful. It also means Judd doesn’t have to pick through a local cemetery’s garbage pile for flowers for his wife, something he did when they were dating and he was earning an ambulance worker’s salary of minimum wage — $1.65 an hour — as he described in one Throwback Thursday video on Youtube.
Marisa Judd said he does show his affection for her, but politely declined to say how. The intensely private wife of the very public sheriff added that was something between just the two of them.
Being in law enforcement often requires Judd to see the worst that people can do to one another. Last year, just before their anniversary, a gunman entered a family estate in north Lakeland, shooting and killing four family members, including a baby. He also shot a 11-year-old girl, but she survived. Marisa Judd said he comes home and talks about these things with her.
“He talked about that quadruple homicide quite a bit, talked about how proud he was of his deputies, talked about how sorry he was that they had to see that kind of stuff,” she said. “He worries about the young guys when they see something traumatic like that. He wants to make sure they’re okay. I just listen to him.”
Don’t expect Judd to ride off into any retirement sunset or run for another office. He said he’d like to be the sheriff for another 25 years and doesn’t want to be governor.
“I love being the sheriff and fortunately Marisa loves me being the sheriff. She means so much to me,” Judd said. “I’ve spent a lifetime creating a life around this crazy schedule. I’m planning to run again. I’m healthy. If I were governor, I’d be term-limited. I can be the sheriff forever.”
View video: Some of Judd’s memorable quotes from last year.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at [email protected]