END OF DUTY: Thousands honor late Midland sheriff

Mourners from across the state gathered at the Midland County Horseshoe Arena Thursday to honor the legacy of service left by Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter, who was called an icon in law enforcement.
Sheriff Painter, 72, served 34 years in office in Midland County and had plans of running for reelection. He was found unresponsive early Sunday morning at his home, which led to an outpouring of condolences from residents and other law enforcement officials for his family and the community in the wake of his loss.
Painter grew up in the farming community of Edmondson in Hale County. He was raised on a cotton and grain farm and graduated from Plainview High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1966 and served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the first tour in the DMZ and the second outside of Danang. He earned the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Vietnam Service Ribbon with six devices. He also earned the Presidential Unit Commendation and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.
He would enter law enforcement in 1970 with the Department of Public Safety and later work at both Culberson County Sheriff’s Department and then the Presidio Sheriff’s Department. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Sul Ross State University in police administration and joined the Midland County Sheriff’s Office in 1982.
Midland Police Chief Seth Herman said his time employed at MCSO was life changing.
“I met a man who was not only a law enforcement legend, but was kind, compassionate, direct, honest, courageous, selfless and believed wholeheartedly in doing nothing more than serving the citizens of this county and the men and women who serve his department,” Herman said.
The police chief went on to say that Painter was one of his greatest influences, next to his father.
Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe echoed sentiments expressed at the funeral about Painter’s willingness to mentor others and said working as a deputy under Painter’s leadership in Midland for seven years gave him the tools to be successful in his role today.
“There’s many things I still utilize to this day that I learned from him like how to work with people, how to inspire and motivate,” he said.
Painter was elected president of the Western State Sheriff’s Association this year and previously held the title of president of the Sheriff’s Association of Texas.
Rowe said Painter was a pillar in the community, but “his reach is well beyond the county line here in Midland, Texas.”
Victoria Chief Deputy Roy Boyd drove about seven hours with fellow lawmen to pay respects to the late sheriff.
“For us, it’s just extremely important to make sure to show up and honor the service that he provided and the legacy that he’s left behind,” Boyd said. “He was somebody that everybody looked up to, someone who was respected greatly.”
Midland County resident Kaitlin Merriam attended the funeral along with about 2,000 others on Thursday while her family watched the live-streamed broadcast of the ceremony at home.
“I’m just speechless right now…honestly I’m numb,” she said.
Merriam said her family had been close to the sheriff even before they moved out to the county in 2001. She said his wife, Patsy Painter, was the secretary at her elementary school and both families shared the same local place of worship.
“Our families have been connected through it all,” she said.
Merriam said one time she had run away from home and a former deputy was dispatched to the area. The deputy had requested backup and “Gary showed up and told me to get my act together.”
Boyd said it was not uncommon for Painter to take someone under his wing and take care of that person.
Midland County Judge Terry Johnson said Painter had the heart of a servant and shared a memory of the sheriff’s heroism during an incident on Nov. 15, 2012, after a train hit a parade float carrying veterans and their families.
“The burning image that I’ll take to my grave is a mountain of an iconic lawman standing in the middle of all that chaos doing what needed to be done,” Johnson said.
The judge thanked Patsy Painter during the service for holding down the fort while “he took care of the rest of us.”
“Rest easy Sheriff Gary Painter, we’ll take it from here,” he said.