||Photo by Staff file photo by Skip Lawrence
Former Frederick County Sheriff Don Barnes, left, played electric guitar and sang. Barnes, who died at age 68 on Tuesday, served two terms as Frederick County sheriff, from 1974 to 1982, calling himself the “architect” of the sheriff’s office.
Barnes leaves behind a colorful legacy.
Frederick County lost one of its colorful personalities as well as a longtime public servant with the death Tuesday of Don “The Singing Sheriff” Barnes, a former county sheriff and country music artist.
Barnes died after collapsing at his home in New Market . He was 68 years old.
Barnes served two terms as Frederick County sheriff, from 1974 to 1982, calling himself the “architect” of the sheriff’s office. Barnes was named Sheriff of the Year in 1978 by the Maryland State Sheriff’s Association. At the time of his election he was 32, the youngest sheriff ever elected in Maryland.
Barnes ran again unsuccessfully in 1986. He also launched an unsuccessful bid for the Maryland House of Delegates in 1982.
Barnes fronted a country-western band called the Countrymen, which recorded a few albums and earned Barnes his nickname. He continued to perform in recent years with musicians at area carnivals.
“Anyone who came in contact with Don immediately liked him,” said longtime friend and local radio host Tommy Grunwell. “He gave his heart to everyone. It’s just a shock.”
According to Allan Brown, Barnes’ friend for 50 years and a former Countrymen band mate, the Singing Sheriff will be remembered as a good man and an effective public servant.
“He had a great sense of humor,” Brown said. “He was a very compassionate person and a very generous person. He was just an all-around great guy.”
Brown said Barnes will be remembered as a sheriff who helped modernize the department and made it what it is today. He also cited Barnes’ work with the Maryland Sheriff’s Youth Ranch, a service that provides foster care as well as guidance and support to at-risk boys between the ages of 10 and 18. Barnes was instrumental in bringing the Youth Ranch to Frederick County.
“I told (Frederick County Sheriff) Chuck Jenkins that in many ways they have Don to thank for making their jobs easier today,” Brown said. “He brought the sheriff’s department out of antiquity.”
Barnes graduated from the Maryland State Police Academy in 1963. He received training in police work and arson investigation at the University of Southern California National Sheriff’s Institute, the Penn State Police Academy, Frederick Community College, and the College of William and Mary.
After serving more than six years with the Maryland State Police, he joined the Maryland Fire Marshall’s office as an investigator in 1969, a position he held until he was elected Frederick County sheriff.
Born Sept. 4, 1941, in Cumberland, Barnes lived in Frederick County since moving to Mount Pleasant in 1964.
He is survived by his wife, Debbie Williams Barnes; two children, three stepchildren, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.