Granny Bear still on the job at 84

By Michael Howlett

July 17, 2014

Although the general public might not be familiar with a lady known as “Granny Bear,” the truckers who used to ignore the law and drive down Fancy Gap Mountain sure were.

Granny Bear, known to most people as Norma Carr, got into law enforcement at an age, 55, when many people are beginning to think about retirement. She had worked at her father’s business, Cochran’s Coal Yard, for most of her life, but when her father’s illness forced the closure of the coal yard, Carr said, “I wasn’t ready to hang it up.”

She decided to study police science and earned her associate degree from Wytheville Community College in June of 1984. Less than a year later she was working for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department.

“(Sheriff) Hassell Vass gave me a chance,” said Carr. “He had a gruff appearance, but he was a teddy bear inside. He would often give me $20 to give to an inmate so they could have something from the commissary while in jail.”

Carr’s job was that of a civil process server, a job that carries many of the same duties as a deputy, including carrying a gun and writing tickets.

“Hassell put me on the road and Cana was my area,” said Carr. “Sometimes on the radio I would hear truckers talking. One would say something like ‘How does it look over your shoulder?’ Then another would answer, “You better watch it, I saw Granny Bear.’”

“It seems like I always got the biggest drivers,” said Carr, who recounted a story in which one driver asked her, ‘What were you going to do if I decided I wasn’t going to turn around?’ Carr replied, “I got Betsy” and patted her gun.

“I asked one driver why he was going down the mountain when he knew it was against the law. He said his dispatcher told him to, so I said, ‘The law told you not to,’” said Carr. “It tore them all to pieces when I made them turn around and pull the mountain and return to Hillsville to appear before the magistrate.”

Carr added that often times when a Virginia State Police Trooper was nearby, he would park a short distance away just in case she needed backup.

When Dick Carico became the Carroll County Sheriff, Carr lost her job, so she moved to Galax to serve as a dispatcher with the Galax Police Department.

“I worked for Galax Police Chief Ray Melton about 10 years, but when the 9-1-1 system came in, we began working 12-hour shifts. I was in my 70s, so I retired,” said Carr.

However, four months later she was a part-time dispatcher for Carroll County’s Sheriff Department. Still working today at the age of 84, she is particularly happy to be serving with current Carroll County Sheriff J.B. Gardner.

“During my Wytheville Community College internship in 1984 I rode with J.B. when he was at Galax. He can’t be beat,” said Carr, who is believed to be the oldest dispatcher in the State of Virginia.

As for being a dispatcher, Carr said, “I always say you have to be a little sadistic to do it. It can be nerve-wracking; there’s a lot of stuff that’s rough to deal with.”

Although Carr hasn’t thought about retiring, she admits she has noticed a big change.

“The officers used to be my children’s age, but, somehow, they have now become my grandchildren’s age,” said Carr.

Michael Howlett can be contacted at 276-728-7311 or on Twitter @MikeEHowlett