SOUTH BEND – Former Pacific County Sheriff John Didion died of a heart attack late last Tuesday afternoon (Dec. 10). During the week residents quietly spoke of disbelief and respect of the man who looked like he was bigger than life, but really was a down to earth compassionate man. Anyone who knew John would wish their heartfelt feelings to his wife, children, grandchildren and close friends.
Didon played in the NFL for more than half a decade and he loved to tell stories about what it was like to live in the NFL. After he retired from football he and his family moved to Naselle and served as Pacific County Sheriff. He was a key supporter of the Naselle Youth Camp for at-risk youth over the years.
“He worked to keep that facility open when they faced state budget challenges” Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson said in a press release.
According to Sheriff Johnson, Didion began his career with Pacific County as a road deputy and was later assigned as the D.A.R.E. officer. He was elected sheriff from 1998 to 2010. Didion also served as the Washington State D.A.R.E. coordinator. He worked to modernize the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office during his years of service. In 2009-2010, Didion served as the President of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
“John did a lot for our community and for the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office where he served as Sheriff for 12 years,” Sheriff Johnson said. “He will be missed by many.”
Ron Clark worked with Didion for 12 years in the Sheriff’s Office, including serving as his Chief Criminal Deputy from 2007-2010.
Clark, who works in the Sheriff’s Office in Long Beach as a deputy and has been with the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years, was gracious enough to speak with the Herald last Friday afternoon.
“He was my best friend,” Clark said softly. “We were very, very close friends. It’s a huge loss. It’s huge. We came a long ways together. John really loved his family a lot. He was a great friend. He would do anything for you. I was very fortunate to call him my friend. He was a very approachable person. As a sheriff…he was the best.”
Clark said the biggest case that he and Didion worked on together was the Knotek case. “When he was working on a case, he was very resourceful. He had the ability to reach out to anybody. Everybody was there for him. He had no hesitation when working a case. He didn’t proclaim to know everything, but he would go find the answers.”
Upon hearing the news that Didion has passed away Clark said, “I was devastated. My whole family was devastated. He was a big part of our life…and it’s now gone.
“A lot of people see him as the sheriff,” Clark continued. “He was larger than life, but he was just a regular guy. He had a heart that was bigger than anything. There was never a time you couldn’t get a hold of him. His family was his biggest thing in his life. He adored his family, his grandchildren. He was very proud of them.”
Didion was Personable and Professional
Deborah Allison, who works in the Sheriff’s Office as a Chief Civil Deputy/Fiscal Analyst, and worked with Didion for several years, spoke with the Herald about Didion.
“I've worked with John since 1983,” Allison said. “First, while I was Confidential Secretary to the Prosecuting Attorney and then when I went to work for the Sheriff's Office in 1987. When he became Sheriff, he retained me in my appointed position of Chief Civil Deputy/Fiscal Analyst. We were friends but we both had our lives outside of work.
“My initial reaction when I heard the news of his passing was my sadness, of course” Allison said. “And, my heart goes out to his family. He was a good man – very intelligent, loyal, and passionate about his beliefs. He was so proud of his family. He adored his grandchildren and talked about them all the time.”
Allison shared her fondest memory of Sheriff Didion?
“It was the look on his face one day during a meeting he was having in his office with a high-level Weyerhaeuser manager,” Allison recalled. “I had brought my puppy to work for some reason and he (my puppy) walked right into John's office and peed on the floor right between the two guys. It was like slow motion. I was frozen and couldn't move. Later, after the meeting was over and the guy left, John said: "Well, I'm glad it wasn't a German Shepherd."
Allison remembers Didion as an intelligent and shrewd sheriff.
“As a sheriff he was smart and savvy when it came to getting projects accomplished,” Allison said. “He worked a lot with WASPC and other state-level and local entities in order to put his ideas into action. This included driving legislation, getting funding, etc. The aim of that was always for the benefit of the people of Pacific County. He took that responsibility very seriously. As far as his management style, John expected his command staff to do their jobs and tried to maintain a chain-of-command structure.
“He was able to impress people with his wit and interest in them and/or their situations,” Allison said. “This was how he was – genuinely interested.
“He wasn't comfortable with politics, but he could schmooze with the best of them; unless he encountered dishonesty, incompetence or subterfuge. Then, watch out!” Allison said. “In my opinion, he was an excellent Sheriff.”
Allison talked about two cases that Didion solved. “As far as his investigating a criminal case himself, nothing comes to mind – other than the time he and then-Deputy Sheriff Benning followed a bank robber/murder case to South Dakota, I think. They got their guys, by the way. As far as arranging the investigation of a case, I would say the Knotek murder case. He worked very hard to ensure the resources needed by the investigators were made available to them, be it arranging for other agencies to assist us or looking for and finding funding to pay for this very expensive investigation.”
Allison said she would always remember Didon “smiling. I'll also remember a picture he had in his office of one of his newly born grandkids. The child was curled up and sleeping and fit into just one of his great big hands. That sort of says it all.”
Didion’s funeral and/or celebration of life will not take place until after Christmas. He leaves behind a wife and three children.