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Ada County Sheriff’s Office longest-serving deputy dies

Gil Wright, who died Thursday morning in Boise, joined the Ada County Sheriff’s Office in 1968 and retired in 2003. During his 35-year career he worked in nearly every department, from dispatch to patrol to undersheriff.

“Gil Wright is the cornerstone of the community,” former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney said at Wright’s 2003 retirement party. “There is a huge amount of knowledge there.”

Wright and Mike Johnson, a former Ada County Sheriff’s Office deputy, county commissioner and U.S. Marshal, grew up together on Allumbaugh street. They both joined the sheriff’s office and attended the FBI Academy.

“He was like a big brother to me,” Johnson said Thursday.

Wright is the “father of the Ada County seal,” Johnson noted. He designed the emblem that adorns the sheriff’s office patrol cars and serves as the county’s logo.

“It is a sad day for the Ada County Sheriff's Office,” Sheriff Steve Bartlett said Thursday. “Gil Wright was a dedicated deputy whose service to the citizens of Ada County spanned more than three decades. His legacy is an important part of our agency’s history.”

In a 2003 interview with the Statesman, Wright said a lot has changed in law enforcement since he joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1968 and brought home the princely sum of $383 a month — which required him to moonlight as a DJ for a local country music radio station to make ends meet.

“When I started, there was a north car and a south car,” Wright said at the time. “If the (deputy driving) the south car called in sick, I had to patrol the whole county.”

Here is an April 16, 2003, Idaho Statesman story about Wright:

Sheriff’s captain ends long career

Gil Wright was the longest-serving Ada County worker

By Patrick Orr

When Gil Wright showed up in 1968 for his first day of work as an Ada County sheriff’s deputy, he had 37 co-workers.

More than three decades later, he had a larger number of well-wishers at his retirement party Tuesday — all there to say goodbye to the longest-serving Ada County employee.

Since 1968, Wright has served under three sheriffs, seen the department and county expand at an exponential rate, helped move the office toward modern law enforcement models and designed the official county seal.

Somewhere in those 34-plus years, Wright managed to work at every job possible in the Sheriff’s Office, from dispatcher to detective to undersheriff, but his philosophy on the job has never changed — to help people.

As a deputy, the unassuming Wright said, “You are a public servant. When I was dispatched to a family fight or a traffic accident, I was there to help — that is what makes the job satisfying.

“This is the kind of employment you can see the results of your work. You can actually put the bad guy in jail.”

Ada County Undersheriff Gary Raney said Tuesday the department, which now has more than 400 employees, is losing a huge asset.

“Gil Wright is the cornerstone of the community, “ Raney said. “There is a huge amount of knowledge there.”

“I gave the sheriff my phone number, just in case, “ Wright said, laughing.

Wright, who was feted by Sheriff Vaughn Killeen and about 50 other law enforcement types Tuesday, was given his captain’s shield, duty gun and a bronze plaque of the official Ada County seal, which he designed in the 1970s.

A lot has changed in law enforcement since Wright joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1968 and brought home the princely sum of $383 a month — which required him to moonlight as a DJ for a local country music radio station to make ends meet, he said.

“When I started, there was a north car and a south car, “ Wright said. “If the (deputy driving) the south car called in sick, I had to patrol the whole county.”

Hiring practices were different then, too.

“It is so much more professional now, “ Wright said. “When Sheriff (Paul) Bright hired me, he asked what my politics were. I said, ‘Republican.’ He said, ‘You’re hired. Go down to Singer’s pawn shop and get a gun and handcuffs.’

“A couple of days later, I was on my own. Now, deputies don’t even get their own car for over a year.”

During the early parts of his career, Wright worked to shepherd the Sheriff’s Office into modern law enforcement models.

There was no police academy in 1968. Wright helped write the first policy manual for the Sheriff’s Office in the early ’70s. He also:

Helped create the junior deputy program to foster communication between law enforcement and kids.

Was a charter member of the Ada County dive team.

Served as the undersheriff for more than a decade under Chuck Palmer.

Later, as the Sheriff’s Office grew from 37 employees to more than 400, Wright became the person everybody in local law enforcement turned to for information, said Boise Airport Police Chief Mike Johnson, who was Wright’s next-door neighbor when they were kids.

“He is the guy everybody went to to find out what to do, because he could tell you why something didn’t work before. But he knew what did, “ Johnson said.

Wright said Tuesday this is a good time to retire, but he plans to remain active. He plans to do some improvement to his property, “spoil (his) grandson rotten” and maybe even try to do some radio work again.

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