Carrol D. Whitmire, the last old-guard sheriff in Pitkin County and the man who beat Hunter S. Thompson at the polls, died March 25 at his home in Golden Valley, Ariz.He served as Pitkin County sheriff from 1966 to 1976 with a traditional, conservative style of policing that Aspen's population largely rejected by the time he left office in the mid-1970s.Many remember him now as a committed law enforcement officer who operated the department like a family-run business, required his deputies to dress like they lived in the West and liked to ride a horse in local parades. He defeated Thompson by nearly 500 votes in the 1970 election. He won his third term in 1974, defeating runner-up Dick Kienast by more than 300 votes in a hotly contested election that pitted the cultural values of Aspen's well-educated, politically liberal newcomers against the more conservative outlook of the county's business and ranching old guard.
He left office on Aug. 9, 1976, midway through his third four-year term, under political pressure from a three-week investigation by then-District Attorney Frank Tucker. The investigation reportedly revealed mismanagement, sloppiness and lack of leadership, according to The Aspen Times archives. The voters elected Kienast after Whitmire's resignation. "We had some culture issues in those years," said Charlie Holloway, a deputy under Whitmire for three years, ending in 1973. "We had some drug issues, but Carrol always maintained an even keel. It didn't matter who he dealt with. He was a down-to-earth, fair gentleman."Whitmire, half Cherokee, was born in Stilwell, Okla., in 1931. His family moved to Colorado when he was 11 and lived in Western Slope towns like Minturn, Gilman, Gypsum and Eagle. Whitmire's formal education ended in ninth grade. He eventually moved to a home northwest of Carbondale and in 1961 took a job in the Aspen Police Department. Whitmire lived with his family in the basement of the county courthouse while serving as sheriff. Holloway described the department under Whitmire as "a family-run operation." Everybody was on call at all times, and nobody filed for overtime pay.
"We didn't have a lot of staff, and there wasn't a big budget for the department," Holloway said. The deputies were also required to wear cowboy hats. "We all dressed Western," Holloway said. "That's the image that Carrol put out to the community. He had us wearing Western hats. Most of us wore Western boots. At one time they had us wearing black ties."He moved to Reno, Nev., in 1978 after leaving the sheriff's office and worked in the federal court system there for a decade. In 1999, he moved to Arizona and worked as a security guard until approximately one year ago. His daughter Cheri Brown said Whitmire would have liked to return to the Roaring Fork Valley but became too ill to move during his last year.
"He wanted to come back here; had he had his wishes he would have come back here to die," Brown said. "He just got too ill. We'll bring his ashes back in May and have a memorial service here, back in Colorado."She remembered how her father would always ride a horse in town parades. She said that even though he took the job seriously, there were light moments. "When I was 6 years old we were called up into his office and John Wayne was sitting there," Brown said. "He deputized John Wayne."Whitmire is survived by his wife, Carol Whitmire; brothers Bill Matthews and Donald Matthews; sister Donna Myers; seven children, Lonnie Whitmire, Kenny Whitmire, David Whitmire, Kathy Arndt, Joy Hale, Debi Upchurch and Cheri Brown; 14 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Joel Stonington's e-mail address is email@example.com