Former sheriff dies

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, January 15, 2009

Shirley Baines considers the death of her husband a huge loss — not just for her, but for anyone who knew J. Irving Baines.

“We could go out of town — we could go to another city — and wherever we went, people would know him,” she said. “He just loved everyone. He loved everything, and everyone loved him.”

Baines served as the sheriff in Suffolk for more than two decades, and during his tenure he saw the merger of Nansemond County and the city of Suffolk, as well as the development of the Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

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“He was an outstanding sheriff,” said Raleigh Isaacs, who currently holds that position in Suffolk. “He was here during some of the trying times in the birth of the city as we know it now. He was an excellent sheriff.”

Baines worked in the Sheriff’s Department for 34 years, 24 of those years as its leader. He also served as the president for the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association.

Former Suffolk Mayor Andy Damiani said it was Baines’ dedication to his job — and the service he felt responsible to bring the people of Suffolk — that led to the hallmark of his career: bringing the regional jail to the city.

Damiani said when Baines became sheriff, he inherited the Suffolk City Jail, formerly on Main Street, which was a dilapidated building with “deplorable” conditions for prisoners.

“He had a big task on his hands, and he had to fight for everything he got,” Damiani said. “He was very aggressive and demanding that we’d get something done. You know how these things drag out. He was a very good guy — a well liked person — and he was conscientious in his job. He had a good relationship with the city, but of course, his obligation was to have a jail that was functioning.”

Damiani said Baines was ultimately responsible for getting the Western Tidewater Regional Jail to open in Suffolk in 1992.

“That solved the problem,” Damiani said. “But it was not an easy decision. He got it done.”

But work was not all that Mr. Baines was known for in the community.

Shirley Baines, who married him seven years ago — his first wife, Joyce, had died after 45 years of marriage — said her husband was an ardent volunteer.

“When we met and got married, he was already retired,” Shirley said. “He was very involved with his volunteer work. We’ve had seven wonderful years of traveling and doing all of his club work and the dinners. He loved it.”

Baines was a member of Whaleyville Methodist Church, the Cypress Ruritan Club, the Progressive Men’s Club and Suffolk Moose Lodge No. 141, among others.

“He just loved helping people,” Shirley said. “I know he loved his city. He loved his country, he was very patriotic. He loved politics. He loved City Council. He loved knowing everything that was going on in his city.”

Damiani said he would often see Mr. Baines out and about during the summer TGIF concerts at the Hilton Garden Inn, and they would often laugh and catch up.

“I think he came to all of them,” Damiani said.

“He enjoyed it. Of course, if he turned around he could see the site of his old jail,” he joked.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Parr Funeral Home and Crematory. Burial will follow at Whaleyville United Methodist Church Cemetery. For more information or to send condolences, visit