An Interview With Joe Guy

Joe Guy has established a reputation in Southeast Tennessee as an author, historian, and law enforcement officer. He is an intriguing man with a quiet, confident, and competent presence. When a reader asked me to do an article on him, I jumped at the opportunity to find out …what makes Joe Guy tick.

Joe Guy’s descendants moved to the Burger Branch Community in McMinn County, near the Monroe County line, in 1830. Joe’s ancestors never left there, and Joe and his family live there still.

As a boy, when his peers were playing, he was sitting at the feet of his elders. “I loved listening to old people talk…it seemed as if everything was much more interesting back in their day.” He also collected Native American artifacts and rocks that were abundant in the area, and kept them in a box under his bed. He liked to think about the hands that used the tools and what the people must have been like.

A storyteller at heart, Joe began to write down the stories told to him by his grandparents. At first he wrote to be able to remember, but as time went on he began to write about the tales his grandparents told from the perspective of the person that the story was about, whether it be a tale of tragedy or heroism. It never ceased to amaze him how people today make fundamentally the same mistakes as those who came before them. “The Bible says there is no new sin, and that about sums it up”, says Joe.

Joe Guy has spent untold hours combing the hills, graveyards, abandoned houses, and the numerous historic archives available in McMinn County, to obtain documentation and photographs to confirm or dispute the tales told by his elders. He was often accompanied by his boys, Brady, Jackson, and Will, but always accompanied by his wife, Stephanie. “I couldn’t have explored my historic interests without Stephanie’s support. She has accompanied me down country roads, taken photos, and spent an enormous amount of time in waiting rooms of archives while I explore historic documents. In return, she always gets a shopping trip…seriously, she is a great partner – priceless.” His research has resulted in three nonfiction books on Southeast Tennessee, the latest being The Hidden History of Southeast Tennessee.

I wondered how someone with such a passion for history and writing ended up in law enforcement.

“I am a third-generation police officer. My grandfather was a well-known officer in Etowah, and my dad was a deputy sheriff and also worked for the Athens Police Department. It was inevitable that I would follow in their footsteps.” Joe Guy is currently the Sheriff of McMinn County. Ironically, his career in law enforcement further built the foundation and reputation of Joe Guy the writer.

Early in his career, Joe answered a call and had the terrible experience of having a three-year-old child die in his arms as he worked to resuscitate her. The family was crying, demanding that she be saved, but there was nothing he could do. It was too late. Joe had serious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following that incident. His oldest son was also three, and Joe just kept seeing the little girl’s face when he looked at his son. He wrote the tragic story in third person to remember it, and realized that the writing of it was cathartic, releasing the pent up tension and emotions that haunted him.

“In law enforcement not a lot of debriefing goes on. So we talk to each other, relating our experiences – some funny, and some not so funny.” Firefighters, EMTs and deputies shared the highs and lows of their work days with each other. Joe began to write, not only about his encounters, but composite renditions of stories told by his peers. Responders to wrecks and other situations appreciated seeing their experiences incorporated into Joe’s writings. This was the beginning of Beyond the Blue Line, a collection of real life experiences of first responders. Initially it ran as a column in The Daily Post-Athenian, but eventually Joe published the collection as a book.

Just as his role in law enforcement has enhanced his writing career, the reverse is also true. Joe’s steadfast search for the hidden history of our region has given him knowledge and insight into the people he serves. He knows who is related to whom, and where they live. And often, what their issues are. Knowing the people you serve is a great asset in serving, bonding, and communicating well with them. “I know the people of Southeast Tennessee, and it helps me to be a better sheriff. I would not want to be sheriff anywhere else.”

“The lack of this kind of bonding is a recipe for disaster as we’ve seen in Ferguson and Baltimore…It’s easy to blame law enforcement, but the big picture is that it is complete failure on everybody’s part.” When the community doesn’t get involved in local government, and law enforcement doesn’t reach out to communicate well with the people to let them know what they do, polarization and misunderstanding occur. All sides need to work more closely together and know where each other is coming from to avoid the kind of problems that have been happening in our nation.

Continue Reading →


If you have lived in the South for longer than 3 years, there is an unwritten rule stating that you must own an azalea. Azaleas arrived to the South from Japan in the 1800s and became an instant favorite. Azaleas are not your polite, retiring Southern belles; they are in-your-face vibrant harlots.

Azaleas belong to the Rhododendron genus, which has over 900 species. There is a large range of colors, including pink, white, red, salmon and lavender; they are born on funnel-shaped blooms.When choosing your azaleas, be sure that you purchase them while blooming. It is disappointing to water and care for a group of azaleas through summer, fall and winter, then to have one explode in a shocking red the following year when all her neighbors were the lovely shade of purple you had chosen. Because their color is so vivid, you need to plan carefully. To be safe, choose plants of one color so they won’t clash. If you have to have a combination, limit it to no more than two colors, which harmonize with similar shades of the same color. Pastels and whites are the easiest to work with.

Local discount stores have azaleas for sale at unbelievable prices, like $1.50 for a one-gallon stick plant. These can be great for naturalizing your woods, but remember that bloom times vary, so your display could be sporadic. Azaleas look best when planted in graceful sweeps.

These painted ladies will perform for years with the proper planting and maintenance. Azaleas like acid soil with a ph of 5.5 to 6. Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball, and make sure that your soil drains. Lousy drainage is the number one killer of azaleas. Azaleas need lots of organic matter. Thoroughly mix leaf mold, aged grass clipping, wood chips or peanut hulls with soil, then toss this mixture into the hole before planting. Unlike most plants, azaleas can be planted almost 2 inches above the ground level. Azaleas are shallow rooted and moisture loving. Make sure that you mulch to retain moisture, to protect from the cold and to prevent weeds. They’ll need a soaking once a week for the first year. Light shade is also important. After blooming, some the petals will turn brown and stick to the bush. If you can’t stand this ugly stage, you can sweep the dead blooms off with a kitchen broom.

Expect your standard azalea to grow six feet tall and six feet wide. Unfortunately, everyone has seen them pruned into a square when they become too large for a foundation planting around a house. Hybrids come in all sizes now, so it is easier to choose a plant to fit your location. Pruning should occur after they have finished blooming. Don’t prune after the first of July, or you’ll be cutting off next year’s flowers. Dead branches can be pruned at anytime. We have azaleas growers in our area so that we don’t have to buy Florida azaleas. Look for a local grower so that your plants won’t be shocked or die when the temperature drops to -10 degrees.

These Southern streetwalkers can be seen blooming in our yards each spring. The only thing that can stop them is a late spring freeze. Azaleas are not heavy feeders, and since they are shallow rooted, fertilizer can burn new roots. In the spring after they have flowered, use a slow release 12-5-9 fertilizer. This will keep your plants looking their best. Epsom salt is hydrated magnesium, and working a small bit into the soil around each plant will acidify the soil and provide magnesium. You can also just buy azalea fertilizer.

The azaleas that we are the most familiar with are the evergreen type, meaning that they keep their leaves in the winter. Recently I’ve noticed more native azaleas (deciduous) available to the public. They are not as particular about soil acidity and winter shade, but they are more sensitive to summer heat.

A soft spring rain and beautiful azaleas is the perfect setting for relaxing in a rocking chair on the porch. Get a tall glass of sweet iced tea with a sprig of mint. This makes for an afternoon of just enjoying being alive. Or in Scarlet O’Hara’s case, “I won’t think about that now. I’ll think about that tomorrow.” After the azaleas stop blooming.

Continue Reading →