Midland, TX – Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter was pronounced dead on Sunday after he was found unresponsive at his home.
Emergency medical personnel responded to the residence and attempted to revive him, but were unsuccessful, the Midland Reporter-Telegram reported.
“It is with great sorrow that we acknowledge the passing of a true law enforcement professional,” Midland Police Chief Seth Herman told the Midland-Reporter Telegram. “Sheriff Gary Painter served with the utmost distinction throughout his career as both a United States Marine and law enforcement official – serving as an example to all who wear the badge.”
The longtime sheriff personified what it means to be a public servant.
“He exemplified those traits most desired in our public servants; honor, courage, selflessness,” Chief Herman said. “His leadership will be missed, but his indelible legacy shall live on through those he inspired – myself included.”
The 72-year-old sheriff enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966, and went on to serve two tours in Vietnam, according to the Midland County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) website.
He earned a multitude of awards and commendations for his distinguished military service, and was honorably discharged in 1970 at the rank of sergeant.
Within a month of leaving the Marine Corps, Sheriff Painter was hired as a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper.
During the course of his nearly 50-year law enforcement career, Sheriff Painter also served with the Culberson County Sheriff’s Office, the Midland Police Department, and the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Police Administration along the way.
He joined MCSO in 1982, and was elected to his first term as sheriff in 1985 – a position he held for the rest of his life.
He even had plans to run for another term, Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis told the Odessa American.
“A born leader of men, Sheriff Painter organized the first multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force in West Texas, organized the Midland County Sheriff's Office Crisis Intervention Unit, was the moving force in creating the Permian Basin Peace Officers association, and was one of the original founders of [Sheriffs of Texas Agreed Response] which has developed into an integral component of many [communities’] plans in their efforts to combat terrorism and weapons of mass destruction incidents,” according to the MCSO website.
He was also a leader and member in numerous local clubs and community organizations.
“He was a friend to all who met him,” Midland County Chief Deputy Rory McKinney told the Midland Reporter-Telegram. “This town, this state and this country lost a very special man.”
Midland County Judge Terry Johnson called Sheriff Painter a “true Texas gentleman, who tipped his hat to every lady he met.”
He believed in living his life in service to others, and showed everyone “what true dedication means,” Johnson said.
Sheriff Painter never hesitated to run towards danger, and created stability in chaotic situations that “would have overwhelmed anybody else,” the judge continued.
“I have seen him become personally involved in many causes larger than himself only to step back to allow others the credit,” Johnson added. “His legacy will be in many areas, but the one that stands out to me is the legacy of a first-rate Sheriff’s Office that is trained and ready to serve us, the citizens of Midland County.”
Former Midland County District Attorney Teresa Clingman said that the longtime lawman was an “old-school sheriff” who “didn’t pull any punches just to be politically correct.”
“He was kind and thoughtful in times of need, and hard as steel when dealing with true criminals,” Clingman said. “His word was his bond…The loss of Sheriff Painter is the end of a law enforcement era.”
The community will remember him as a “patriot of integrity and valor,” U.S. Representative Mike Conaway said. “Sheriff, you’ve left behind a HUGE pair of boots to fill.”
Sheriff Painter leaves behind his wife of 40 years, Patsy, as well as his daughters, Sandy and Jennifer, and his son, Justin, according to his obituary.
He is also survived by his sister, eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and many friends and extended family members.
Sheriff Painter will be laid to rest on Thursday.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.