Friends remember former sheriff fondly
At well over 6 feet tall, former Nevada County Sheriff Bill Heafey didn’t just step out of cars. He unfolded.
He also oversaw big change during his 11-year tenure, from spearheading construction of Wayne Brown Correctional Facility to starting a narcotics division in his department to revamping its communications system.
On Wednesday, Heafey died at his Nevada City home of lung cancer. He was 66.
“He was a big man in a number of ways,” Sgt. Steve Mason said.
On Thursday, many discussed the time Heafey took with matters of all scale before retiring in 1993.
“He was very talkative. He loved to talk and get in conversations with people,” Mason said. “He liked to discuss matters from both sides. You would debate at times over things, and he was interested in the other side of an issue. He may not agree with you, but he would talk about it.”
Mason recalled an early encounter, in the 1970s, when Heafey was the county’s chief probation officer. Mason was on patrol when he pulled over a swerving Volkswagen Beetle near Broad Street, thinking the driver might be drunk.
As it turned out, Heafey was crammed in the back seat, making it hard for the driver to steer.
“All I could see was bodies inside this vehicle,” Mason said. “It was kind of a humorous incident, seeing this big man get out of this Volkswagen and just unfolding, and (thinking), ‘How did he get three other people in there?'”
The two enjoyed a roadside laugh.
Later chats came over lunch with current Sheriff Keith Royal, who took in his predecessor’s advice.
“He was a good sheriff with a good sense of humor, who always had the community’s interests at heart,” Royal said.
Heafey ran the office under a tight budget.
“Bill stood up to the Board (of Supervisors) to protect his budget, so that public safety wasn’t jeopardized due to these pending financial shortfalls,” Royal said.
Capt. Gary Jacobson, a longtime co-worker, said the Sheriff’s Office was somber Thursday.
“He hired a lot of the people here, and there’s a great sense of loss,” he said.
Jacobson’s job frequently took him to Truckee, and Heafey would tell the captain to give various people a hello.
“People would be impressed that he remembered them,” Jacobson said.
Several people made the trip from Truckee in Heafey’s final weeks to visit him.
Heafey started in law enforcement with the Alameda County Probation Department. He moved to Nevada County in 1968 to become chief probation officer. In 1982 he was elected sheriff, succeeding the retiring Wayne Brown, a longtime friend who died last year.
Heafey had a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University and two master’s degrees, and he put them to good use, said Paul Rankin, Heafey’s undersheriff before succeeding him as sheriff.
“He had a good management style. He was open with everybody. He took everybody’s opinions into consideration before he did anything,” Rankin said.
Heafey is survived by his wife, Kay, four children and four grandchildren. Kay Heafey said her husband was diagnosed with cancer in August.
Funeral services are at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Hooper and Weaver Mortuary in Nevada City, according to the mortuary.
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