By Adrian Black
Lifting the receiver before the second ring from his desktop phone can complete, Gil Gilbertson doesn’t answer with, “Sheriff.” Whoever is on the line inspires something else: “Ahoy!”
Daryl Gilbertson joined the Navy out of high school. Gil was his father’s name, until it became his, aboard the vessel on which they served together. Little Gil and Big Gil, the sailors called them.
“I was just a normal kid who went to school, graduated, and found a job wherever I could,” says a modest Gilbertson, who would go on to become an expert diver and ordinance disposal technician.
Upon return to his native Iowa from service in Vietnam, Gilbertson pursued a career in law enforcement and earned a degree in public administration. Two decades of experience as a municipal policeman left him a big fish in a small pond.
Gilbertson eventually got the itch to once more venture abroad, realizing his potential to support other foreign military operations. He worked as a contractor for the US State Department in support of the peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. He trained police there, managed various crises, and according to William Walker, a US diplomat stationed in the Kosovar capital of Pristina, “personally extracted a TV news crew pinned down by hostile fire.”
Locked upright into the armored wall behind the driver’s seat of Gilbertson’s patrol SUV, his AR-15’s muzzle is obscured by yellow letters across a black baseball cap: “SHERIFF.”
From training Iraqi bomb squads to deploying as a sheriff’s deputy during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Gilbertson’s commitment to endangering himself easily explains how he could never pull the trigger on settling down. Big Gil retired to Josephine County in 1976. His son would follow suit many years later and, despite constant distractions, slowly lay down his roots in the area.
Through all of Gilbertson’s advisory roles and unique experiences contributing to civil reconstruction, he learned to appreciate the stable domestic sphere he’d taken for granted throughout much of his life. He fooled around and fell in love. Gilbertson married for the first and only time at the tender age of 57. Soon after, in 2006, he ran for Sheriff, beating out three well-qualified opponents, and becoming 55,000 Josephinians’ lawman.
When Gilbertson took over the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office, he had high hopes and no idea that not too far down the road, his talent of rebuilding would be tested again.
I was just a normal kid who went to school, graduated, and found a job wherever I could.
Sheriff Gil Gilbertson
© 2013-2014 School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon