SALISBURY, Md.— R. Hunter Nelms, a former longtime sheriff of Wicomico County, has died, the Sheriff’s Office confirmed Wednesday.
Many across the region are just learning of his passing, but as Chief Deputy Gary Baker told Delmarva Now, the former leader died in early May at the age of 81.
“He never was one that went out to seek recognition,” Baker said, outlining the family’s specific recommendation that the county not announce or formally honor his death.
Baker remembers serving the first half of his Wicomico County career under Nelms’ wing. He said that leadership helped make him the officer he is today.
He’s not alone.
Nelms served the county for over 20 years. Under his watch, the sheriff saw a small agency of under 20 people swell to well over 70-strong in sworn law enforcement officers.
Before his tenure, the Salisbury native attended Wicomico High School. He went on to study at the University of Maryland Law Enforcement Institute and later the F.B.I. National Academy. Nelms also served in the U.S. Air Force from 1957 to 1964, and continued active duty with the Air Force Reserve, according to his biography in the state manual.
He later earned the U.S. Air Force Aerial Achievement Medal.
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Nelms served as both a Maryland State Trooper and the Delmar chief of police before stepping into the role as Wicomico’s highest leader in law enforcement in 1984. He filled a statewide seat as president of Maryland Sheriffs’ Association in 1993, after having served as vice president since 1991.
On perhaps his softer side, Nelms had a love for animals. Baker fondly remembered a salt-water aquarium the law enforcement powerhouse dutifully attended to in the Sheriff’s Office, and he was almost never seen without one of his dogs.
The Republican leader held his Wicomico County post until 2006 — and his impact is still felt.
“The realization that the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office would flourish into the full service agency it is seen as today would not have been possible without the leadership of Sheriff Nelms,” reads the history page of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office website.
Baker said Nelms was a “visionary for law enforcement” in the county.
“He had a vision to make the Sheriff’s Office a full-service police agency — and he did.”
By the time of Nelms’ retirement, his agency had further developed the Criminal Investigation Division, helped initiate the Wicomico County Narcotic Task Force, created a K9 program that would become the model for others on the Shore and staffed the school resource officer program, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Today the agency remembers all of its technology upgrades — from a mobile data terminal, to in-car camera systems and more — were built on a foundation set by its former leader.
He will be remembered by his family, former agency and law enforcement leaders across the region. He’s survived by two sons and a brother in Alabama. As Baker explained, no formal service is expected in Wicomico County, in alignment with his wishes and that of his family.