A devastating loss for Midland County and the entire Permian Basin today, as Sheriff Gary Painter has died after almost 50 years of service in law enforcement.
Painter was born in rural Amherst, Texas. He later went onto enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps where he served two tours of duty in Vietnam. His love for law enforcement began early-on, and many say he was a true patriot, an avid Christian, and a loving family man.
For Laurie and Wilson Clark, he was a beacon of light in supporting Wilson’s endeavors to create Toys for Cops. Toys for Cops is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving children in crisis situations.
“He encouraged and supported Wilson,” explained Laurie Clark. “He was just a tall man with a huge heart. A huge heart for law enforcement, a huge heart for his community, and an even bigger heart for hurting children.”
She says Painter was never afraid to show his heart and always had a personal relationship with those he met.
“He didn’t hide behind his badge. He wore his badge as a humble servant.”
Others called him a self-less leader and a man of integrity. Chief Deputy, Rory McKinney, says Painter was always more like a father than his boss.
“We’re all just one big family, and that’s the way he treated everybody.” explained McKinney. He says Painter never grew enemies, and he was a friend to all.
“I think he meant the world. He thought the world of the citizens, of not just Midland County, but of the whole Permian Basin and the whole state. We’d go out of state to like two different places, and we’ll be walking down the sidewalk and somebody would pass by in a car and say, ‘Hello, Sheriff Painter!’ And we’d be like in Utah.”
Sheriff Mike Griffis stated he was in shock the morning he heard of his passing. He recalled meeting Painter not long ago at Bustin’ for Badges.
“He’s absolutely made his mark in Texas, in the country, in this community. I don’t know… He’s left quite a legacy.”
Former colleague and continuous family-friend, Benny Matlock, says his family bonded with Painter’s family over the love for law enforcement.
“Painter’s family and my family go all the way back to Sheriff Gary working at Midland PD with my dad. And then years later my dad ended up working for Sheriff Painter. My dad worked at the Sheriff’s office, I worked at the Sheriff’s Office, my wife worked at the Sheriff’s office, one of my adopted kids worked at the Sheriff’s Office.”
The two families’ relationship now nearing 40 years. He recalls going to church with the Painters on Sunday mornings; Sheriff Painter’s daughter, Jennifer, was in Matlock’s bible study.
“The Sheriff was not only a Sheriff, but he was Gary, and we truly feel like it was a loss of our own family.
Matlock says Painter loved his family more than anything. He was married to his wife, Patsy, and had five children of his own.
“Like most peace officers I would say, any that are worth their salt, the families are always the one kind of in the background supporting a great man just like they did Gary. They were an incredible family, and they still are.”
And for Midland County Judge, Terry Johnson, he can never thank Painter enough for the support and guidance he gave during his campaign.
“As a matter of fact, the man stood right here when I was sworn in for County Judge, he was there when I announced, he was here when I was sworn in… I believe his support and encouragement was the whole lot of reason I was fortunate to occupy the position I’m in right now.”
He recalls the plane crash back in 2012; a moment in history he will never forget.
“I’ll never forget him running to the fire,” said Johnson. “And seeing him standing there larger than life that he is take control and deal with the situation. Very special man…”
And while Gary Wayne Painter no longer stands by those he loves, the legacy of his life-well-lived, will continue forevermore.
“You don’t just lose a man like that, and just forget about him overnight.”