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Former chief left big imprint

Profile image for By Bj Lewis
By Bj Lewis

Autrey, who led police forces for Denton and TWU, dies at age 87

To all who knew him, Everett Wayne Autrey was bigger than life.

Becky Quandahl, the second of his three daughters, said it was difficult to pen his obituary.

“To put into words, somebody that is so big in our eyes, it was impossible to get something on paper,” she said.

Wayne Autrey, Denton’s longest-serving police chief, died Saturday surrounded by friends and family.

Autrey, 87, served as the city’s police chief from 1964 to 1977. After retiring from the city department, he was the police chief at Texas Woman’s University from 1977 to 1989.

“He had an amazing career. He served in the military, had 41 years in law enforcement,” Quandahl said. “He was a strong man. More than that, he was a very godly man, and that is what he put first. When you have an example like that in your life, it’s hard for anybody else to match up.”

Autrey was born in Waco, and grew up alongside four brothers and four sisters. He enlisted in the Navy in 1945, heading off to boot camp on the Fourth of July.

In 1951, Autrey started his career in law enforcement with the Texas Highway Patrol. His career lasted 41 years, including two years as police chief of Weatherford.

TWU Police Chief Elizabeth Pauley was saddened to hear of her mentor’s passing.

“He was a great guy,” she said Saturday. “He first hired me in 1977 as a sergeant, and that’s where I got my start here.”

Pauley said Autrey had a vision, and wanted to see the department modernized and brought to its full potential. She was one of three sergeants hired when he first became chief.

“He really wanted us to be a full running department and I think he began to lay the groundwork for what we are today,” she said.

Autrey would have celebrated his 59th anniversary with his wife, Sallie Jo Whitson Autrey, this fall.

Wayne Autrey had seen and been part of some tense situations in his career, Quandahl said, and he always prayed before going out to face them, praying that no one would be hurt. He often used a room behind his desk, which held confiscated items, as his prayer room.

She said he had a wit and sense of humor that came more to the forefront after his retirement, when he had fewer responsibilities.

Quandahl said she, her sisters or just about anyone could come to Autrey with a problem or situation and he would try to help out.

“Dad was always doing for other people — he truly put himself last,” she said. “Even though he was large and in charge, he was more concerned about everyone else and making sure the people he worked with were doing their best, whatever it was.”

Autrey would often help people in the community, from lending kids bicycles to get around to helping families with groceries and clothes.

“He was so tender-hearted, if he saw someone in need he would take care of the need himself or find them help,” Quandahl said.

In his later years, Autrey just wanted to be with his friends and family, his daughter said. He had two friends at his side — a neighbor of his and another he played high school football with — just days before his death.

“He’s got lifelong friends from his childhood and from his first career all the way through,” Quandahl said. “He touched a lot of lives.”

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.