Law enforcement officers from all over East Texas will be in Nacogdoches on Friday to pay their respects to former Sheriff John Lightfoot. The longtime lawman died yesterday at age 97.
Everyone knew him as "Mr. John." He couldn't be beat, and few tried. For 24 years through the sixties until 1984, Lightfoot served as Nacogdoches County sheriff. He always got the bad guy.
In an interview at his 1984 retirement party Lightfoot said, "I've had 11 bank robberies, and I don't know how many murders. Never lost a bank robber. Never lost a murderer. I don't know what better you'd want."
The people who worked for one of the last old-time sheriffs recalled fancy detective work was seldom needed. Constable Bill Ball served as a dispatcher, jailer and deputy. "He'd call them (suspects)up. He'd say I'm John Lightfoot. I need you to come down here. They respected him enough, most of them would come down there."
And he taught his department that same respect. Former jailer, jail administrator and deputy for Lightfoot, Robert Spencer said, "He taught you to have patience, kindness and no matter what people did always show them respect for them." Spencer is now a retired justice of the peace.
And he gave Brenda Shull, the first woman dispatcher for Nacogdoches County a job. "I had just graduated from high school. He said come on in. I'll give you a chance, and he was willing to give anyone a chance."
During Lightfoot's tenure, there were few restrictions placed on law enforcement. Marijuana was taken to the dump in a U-Haul and burned for all to watch. Jail standards didn't come along until the mid-seventies.
Change was accepted willingly recalled Lightfoot's deputy and jail administrator, Gene Gilcrease. "The sheriff was very good on that. He had the sense to know the times were changing, and we had to change with them."
The East Texas Law Enforcement Association, a group founded by Lightfoot, will serve as honorary pallbearers. Hundreds from across the state are expected to attend the funeral.
From what Lightfoot said during a 1993 interview at the dedication of a law enforcement center named in his honor you would guess that he would wonder what all the fuss was about. He said, "You know how it makes you feel. You don't know if you deserve it or not."
Those who knew Mr. John will say, you did.