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Virginia Sheriffs’ Association
The Voice of Virginia’s Sheriffs & Deputies

Bristol Sheriff R. Tyrone Foster made history on Thursday, January 22, 2024. Sheriff Foster was one of just four honorees of the prestigious Strong Men and Women of Virginia award. Following a 24-year career working for Electrolux, Sheriff Foster seized an opportunity to join the law enforcement community in 2000 with the Bristol Police Department. He then served on the Virginia School Board and ultimately was elected Sheriff in his hometown of Bristol in 2022.

The Library of Virginia will host a traveling exhibition featuring Sheriff Foster and his fellow honorees throughout the year so that Virginians can learn about these outstanding leaders and their contributions to the Commonwealth. Learn more about our very own Sheriff R. Tyrone Foster below:

Sheriff Foster, last week you were honored with the prestigious Strong Men and Women of Virginia award. This annual award recognizes notable African American business and community leaders who have overcome obstacles to make significant impacts across the state. What does receiving this award mean to you?

I was born and raised in Bristol, a part of southwest Virginia and grew up in public housing in the 1960’s. I never thought I would be having this conversation in my lifetime but GOD placed me where I am and He opened doors that I never could. To see the names and the accomplishments of previous honorees, to have my name mentioned in the same breath is an honor in itself. I am truly blessed and humbled to even be considered as a part of Virginia history.

What would you like youth to know about facing adversity and giving back to their communities?

First of all, the youth of today need to believe in themselves and never let any one tell them that they cannot succeed or let the situation of life that they are in, whether it is because of the race, color, ethnicity and other barriers they face dictate the path of life they want to choose. They should want to give back to the community because when youngsters see people that “grew up like them” it makes it easier for the next generation to succeed. Leave life in their community a little better than how you found it.

Prior to becoming sheriff, you served on the Virginia School Board. Does your history in the education sector impact your decisions and goals as Sheriff?

Actually they both go hand in hand. I was a police detective at the Bristol VA Police Department when I first ran for school board in 2008. So, I believe my expertise in law enforcement benefited me being on the board. Since then, I have been able to serve on many school-law enforcement advisory boards and committees in the community and across the state. By seeing the community as a whole from the law enforcement aspect helped me connect with our educators and administrators on a more personal level.

What made you decide to shift to a career in law enforcement?

I believe one of the reasons I was selected as an honoree was because I was a dreamer as a kid raised in the 1960’s during segregation. One of my dreams was to serve in the Air Force and fly jets and when I retired, I was going to join the Virginia State Police. But GOD has a sense of humor. He opened a door for me to work full time at a floor care product factory and play college basketball while attending classes at night at a local college in Bristol. I still held on to my dream and after 24 years at Electrolux a door opened at the Bristol VA Police Department. So, the shift then went to actually following my dream. My dream to become Sheriff began after a few successful elections on the school board. My friends would ask why I never ran for Sheriff and my answer was because the Sheriffs that were in Office were colleagues in law enforcement and I would never try to fix something that wasn’t broken. But it still became a dream and a goal. Both Sheriffs decided not to run again so, I stepped forward and was fortunate to fulfill another dream.

What is your most proud accomplishment as Sheriff?

I am in my first term as Sheriff of Bristol and since I came from the police side of the city, I was the new guy in the office. So, my proudest accomplishments as Sheriff besides being elected and chosen to serve the city that I grew up in would have to be at this point being selected by the Library of Virginia and Dominion Energy as one of the 2024 Strong Men and Strong Women of Virginia. This is a legacy that I not only can leave for my family, but also to the members of the Bristol Sheriff’s Office and the city I serve. There are differing views of law enforcement across the country but, I am hoping this great honor helps open doors for others in the law enforcement field.

How has being involved in VSA and VSI impacted you professionally? And personally?

The VSA and VSI are a like the other state boards that I have been a part of whether it is School Boards or Police. They offer support, education and advocacy. The thing that I have learned over the past two years with the VSA and VSI is they promote unity between Sheriffs and Sheriff’s Offices. I have become friends and acquaintances with the staff and board of directors at the VSA and VSI and I have also formed a great network with Sheriffs across this great Commonwealth. The leadership is phenomenal and every time I have a question or an issue, I receive an answer. Being a Sheriff is a brotherhood and I credit the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association and the Virginia Sheriffs’ Institute.

What advice would you give to newer sheriffs and deputies?

The advice that I would give is to be yourself. Don’t ever change because it can be so easy to do. As my dad always told me never forget who you are and were you came from because you have to know where you came from to know where you are going. Follow your dreams that you have in place and don’t try to make a difference but inspire to be the difference. That is how dreamers like me become doers. 

Learn more about Sheriff Foster by reading his bio/resume.