Those who knew Everett Wayne Autrey best will tell you that the words “to protect and serve” were more than just a motto to him.
Autrey, 87, who was Denton’s longest-serving police chief, died Saturday. Friends and family members are remembering him not only for his long and distinguished career as a peace officer but also for his abiding faith in God and a lifelong talent for building friendships.
He also had a sharp wit, a good sense of humor and a caring attitude that served him well. If anyone came to Autrey with a problem, he would try his best to help, family members told us.
“He was so tender-hearted, if he saw someone in need, he would take care of the need himself or find them help,” daughter Becky Quandahl said.
Autrey made a habit of putting the needs of others ahead of his own, Quandahl and others told us. He may have been in charge at the police department, but he was always concerned about everyone else and tried to make sure that the people he worked with had what they needed to do their best.
Serving as Denton’s police chief from 1964 to 1977 and later as police chief at Texas Woman’s University from 1977 to 1989, Autrey was credited as a leader with vision, for laying the groundwork to help prepare for the progress that lay ahead.
Although Autrey was remembered as a strong man who served his country in the U.S. Navy and built a 41-year career in law enforcement, his friends and family also honored him as a compassionate neighbor always ready to help people in need.
His kindnesses ranged from such simple acts as lending bicycles to kids to helping families with groceries and clothing.
Born in Waco, Autrey enlisted in the Navy in 1945. In 1951, he started his career in law enforcement with the Texas Highway Patrol. In addition to leading the Denton and TWU police, his career included two years as police chief of Weatherford.
Autrey relied on his faith, especially during tense career situations, his daughter told us. He often used a room behind his desk, which held confiscated items, as a prayer room.
In his later years, Autrey just wanted to be with his friends and family. He would have celebrated his 59th anniversary with his wife, Sallie Jo Whitson Autrey, this fall.
Two of Autrey’s longtime friends — a neighbor and a high school football teammate — were with him 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.”
Most of us would consider such a statement to be a fitting epitaph for a life well lived.