MIDLAND COUNTY, Texas (Big 2/Fox 24) – To most people outside our corner of Texas, Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter will likely be known as a rough and tough lawman.
But, those in the Permian Basin remember him as a sweet man and a fierce friend who was dedicated to justice, a respected veteran and a dedicated servant to the people of Midland County.
Sheriff Painter died unexpectedly earlier this year in Midland after being found unresponsive. The news sent quakes throughout the Permian Basin.
Painter has been a staple in the community since the late 80’s serving as sheriff for more than 30 years.
Born in the Panhandle, Painter was a West Texas son from the beginning. After graduating from high school, a young Gary Painter begin his service to others by enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.
The soldier turned sheriff built a formidable career in the military, serving in Vietnam and earning several commendations before being honorably discharged in 1970.
Soon after, Painter began his career in law enforcement with the Texas Department of Public Safety as a highway patrolman.
He would go on to serve in the Culberson and Presidio County Sheriff’s Offices before finding his West Texas home.
In 1982, Painter joined the Midland County Sheriff’s Office and quickly worked his way up through the ranks. By 1985 he was elected the Midland County Sheriff, a position he would hold until his death Sunday morning.
As sheriff, Painter continued his illustrious career, creating the first multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force, the crisis intervention unit at the MCSO, the Permian Basin Peace Officer’s Association and more.
But it wasn’t all good days for Sheriff Painter in Midland. In 2014, Painter would lose one of his deputies in the line of duty, Mike Naylor.
Naylor was killed while serving a search warrant. Shortly after his death, Painter addressed the community. In a tearful speech, Painter rallied the community around the Naylor family, asking for prayers.
“We ask the people to keep his family in their prayers, they are going to need it,” Painter said that day of Naylor’s death. “They are good people, my God what a good family. It’s hard.”
Painter continued to honor the legacy of his friend and former colleague Deputy Mike Naylor hosting a memorial ceremony in his honor each year.
A few years later, Painter took aim at another issue in Midland County. One he was all too familiar with as sheriff; alcohol and drug addiction.
With that in mind, Painter set out to create a mental health unit in Midland County. The goal, according to Painter, was to give people a second chance and help them stay out of the criminal justice system.
“Give them the opportunity to go to a cleaning up place where they can go in and get their life cleaned up,” Painter said of his vision for the unit, “and give us the opportunity to work with individuals rather than punish them, which they shouldn’t be punished for having an addiction.”
Although most known for his time as a lawman, Painter was just as involved in the community.
He served with the Midland Downtown Lion’s Club, the 200 Club and was a staunch supporter of West Texas veterans.
Since the news broke earlier this morning, a flood of well-wishers have reached out.
Some of those that reached out include Midland Police Chief Seth Herman, Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis, Odessa Police Chief Mike Gerke and many, many more.
A memorial has since been set up to honor the Midland County Sheriff at the Midland County Sheriff’s Office in his regular parking spot.
A funeral service was held for Painter at the Midland County Horseshoe Arena. Law Enforcement from all over the country poured into the area to say their goodbyes and honor their friend.
The memorial included various words from close friends, a salute from the honor guard and more. It was a fitting send off to a man who had given so much of himself to the people of West Texas.
Since his passing, Richard Gillette has taken over as the interim sheriff and various candidates are vying for the seat in 2020.
One thing is certain, which has been seconded by some running for the position, there will be only one Gary Painter. The legacy he left and the impact he had on Midland County will be remembered fondly for years to come.