A friend of mine passed away recently.

When JR told me about it, all I could think of was, “Jesus, he was so young!”

What I didn’t realize he was just a little older than I am.

It’s funny how that works. We take someone we haven’t seen in years, and their image becomes locked in time and space. Even seeing one of his last pictures in uniform did nothing to change that. Robert Gurule will be forever in his thirties in my memory.

There’s a lot of things that stick in my memory about Robert. One of them was his compassion for people. He was a tough guys tough guy, but he had a heart of gold towards people. Even when forced to arrest someone, he remained compassionate and a friend to that person.

Robert when he was Sheriff.

I remember once when had to put that cuffs on a guy, and took him in, Robert sat and talked with the guy. He admonished him that he needed to knock this behavior off, and if he just needed someone to talk to, to call him. After we’d left the Sheriff’s Office where the guy had been booked into jail, he bemoaned the fact that such a promising young man was now sitting in jail and spent most of his day drinking, smoking dope, and not living up to his potential.

He was one of the best street cops I ever encountered, and I learned a lot from him about working and surviving as an officer.

I remember one night we got a call that someone was throwing rocks from the rooftops of the buildings on Main Street in Antonito. We climbed up the back of one the buildings, and we could see someone at the end of the far building. All the buildings had flat roofs. They’d been built that way back in the 1890s or so. I suspect in most cases that was when the roofs were put on.

We began running quietly across the rooftops towards the shadowy figure. I have to admit, I was a little concerned about running across those roofs because I could feel the boards sag under my weight. Being smaller and lighter, Rob didn’t seem to be having an issue, and had quickly taken the lead as we ran quietly across the rooftops.

Rob crossed over the a small partition between two buildings, and was running when suddenly he disappeared in a violent crash. The aged roof had collapsed under him.

Hearing it, the shadow looked, saw us and ran towards the back of the building, and climbed down a telephone pole while I ran to the hole that had appeared in the roof.

Rob was in the hole and hanging on by his armpits. Careful to stay on a strong part of the roof, I lay down, and like rescuing a man from ice, between us, we managed to get him out of the hole.

We never did find out who was throwing the rocks. We had our suspicions and gave the guy a friendly word of advice. Either way, the incident was never repeated.

Robert went far in his career. He was Chief in Antonito and Sheriff in Conejos County. He served on a number of boards that helped people out.

But I suspect his biggest impact was one his one on one with people. Those events of course go unrecorded in most cases.

When I got back from the Gulf War, he made it a point to come and see me and welcome me home. He also made it a point to buy me a beer and tell me job well done.

I’ll always remember his quick laugh, courage, and tenacity.

So Rob, a hearty slap on the back to a job well done.

Save me a seat at the great dinner table, Bro. I’ll be seeing you there one fine day.

This time, I’ll buy the beer.