SUMRALL, MS (WDAM) - The memory of a long-time Pine Belt lawman was honored with a highway dedication Wednesday in Sumrall. Family and friends gathered at the Sumrall Community Center as the new "Police Chief Willie James Preston Memorial Highway" sign was unveiled.
"I'm just happy today that we were able to do this for him," said Patricia Lee, Preston's sister.
Lee says she came up with the idea to honor her late brother with a highway. She enlisted the help of city officials to bring her plan to life.
"About a year and a half ago, I wanted to do something for my brother and the only thing I could think of was to get a street named after him," Lee said. "But, we decided not to do a street. So, they said 'let's do a highway'."
Preston made history as the first African-American officer with the Sumrall Police Department. He broke another glass ceiling when he went on to serve as the first African-American chief of police in the same department. He worked in law enforcement for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2011. Those in attendance offered reflections about the man they say had a lasting impact on his community.
"I've seen him do many things besides being a police chief in this town," said Mayor Heath Sumrall. "He was always there if we had a problem. If it was water and sewer, if it was a fire, if it was a wreck--- he was always there to help."
Back in 2017, the Mississippi Legislature passed Senate Bill 2155 designating "Police Chief Willie James Preston Memorial Highway." The bill was introduced by Rep. Sen. Joey Fillingane:
Southern District Transportation Commissioner, Tom King, who was in attendance said Preston left a mark on those around him.
"I'll remember him as a great law enforcement officer," said King. "He did a great job as a police chief here in Sumrall. The many things he did here for the citizens of Sumrall and the legacy he left behind for his family--- great role model, great mentor for not only his children and grandchildren, but friends and future generations (will be remembered).
Preston died in September 2017 after a lengthy battle with an illness.