When it comes to C.J.
Laizure, Gilroy’s first police chief who spent 20 years guiding
the agency to new levels of standards and professionalism, an old
friend summed up Laizure’s legacy with a sports anecdote. Full
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When it comes to C.J. “Jim” Laizure, Gilroy’s first police chief who spent 20 years guiding the agency to new levels of standards and professionalism, an old friend summed up Laizure’s legacy with a sports anecdote.
“To talk about Jim and not mention anything about the police department would be like talking about Babe Ruth and not mentioning anything about baseball,” said retired GPD officer Frank Biafore, eulogizing his friend Monday morning in front of Gilroy Police Department headquarters, which were named after Laizure at opening ceremonies in 2005.
“‘Fort Laizure,’ as the chief affectionately called it,” quipped retired GPD Sgt. John Sheedy.
A celebration with roughly 100 people in attendance honored Laizure, the youngest chief in the state when he was hired by Gilroy to fill the position created by the new city charter in 1960.
As speakers approached the podium beneath a towering façade bearing the chief’s name in black lettering, overcast weather gave way to sun and blue skies. It matched the tone of the gathering; decidedly uplifting as funny stories and fond memories elicited laughs from attendees.
Known as “Jim” to co-workers and friends, the local icon of the Garlic Capital yesteryear who served as chief for two decades, was admitted to Saint Louise Regional Hospital July 2, where he passed at about 6 a.m. July 4.
He was 81.
“For the patriot that man was, it was very fitting that God chose to take him on the Fourth of July,” observed Sheedy.
GPD Chief Denise Turner pointed out this is the first time Gilroy has lost a police chief; a man who’s worn myriad hats throughout his lifetime, including soldier, officer, husband and father of four who “was always positive and upbeat” and “never hurt your feelings,” Biafore said.
Jim’s youngest son, 51-year-old Chuck Laizure of Clovis, delivered an eloquent eulogy laced with comedic memories of his father, a man with a “mischievous nature” and “spirit of adventure.” Chuck said his dad enjoyed playing softball under the jersey moniker “chiefy-wiefy” and would proceed to pedal over every pothole he could find when giving his baby sister rides on the handlebars of his bicycle.
While Chuck coined Jim as “stubborn,” he underscored a “truly admirable quality” shining beneath that term as the chief would take a stand for what he believed in – “and he would not waiver.”
This was true in his personal life, where tales of Jim laying claim to his future spouse – Betty Laizure – reflect unflinching backbone.
After meeting the woman who would become his Mrs. in a matter of three months, Chuck said his father promptly thwarted all competition.
“Another young man approached, and asked her name,” said Chuck, recalling the time his parents met at a Merced roller skating rink in 1951. “My father said, ‘Her name is M.I.N.E.'”
Jim and Betty were married for 56 years. In later years, he cared for her every need after she became completely paralyzed from multiple sclerosis. Betty passed away in 2007.
Others testified the to broad influence left by Gilroy’s first chief, a famously progressive officer credited with modernizing what Turner called “a small marshal agency.”
Retired Los Gatos police officer Pat DeLeon said Jim was the kind of person who gave people a second chance.
After carving out a reputation for himself with local Gilroy authorities as a restless teen-ager who threw tomatoes at patrol units and stole a baby Jesus figurine from a church nativity, DeLeon went to college and came back wanting to become a cop.
“Hey, knucklehead,” said Jim, who decided to hire DeLeon but couldn’t resist cracking a joke. “Do you have a baby Jesus with you?”
And then there’s Jim’s professional resume, which merits its own book: Standardizing the GPD uniforms, establishing the 911 system, securing a radio frequency, penning the organization’s first manual, planning the Rosanna Street station and starting up a cadet program are just few of many accomplishments.
“He was an American hero serving country, and a local hero serving community,” said Turner, noting Laizure’s service as a gunner on a B-29 bomber during the Korean War.
Among those paying respects Monday were family members, retired and active officers of the Gilroy Police Department, the U.S. Air Force, VFW Honor Guard, GPD mounted patrol and two bagpipe players from the Los Gatos Police Department.
Standing out in the crowd were four young men wearing identical yellow suspenders, grandsons of Laizure who decided to don the whimsical accessories in honor of their late grandfather.
One of them, 26-year-old Kevin Noto of Las Vegas, said the suspenders were a signature apparel item. Noto estimated the former police chief had about 15 pairs.
“We were going through his room last night, and we found four matching pairs, which was perfect because there’s four grandsons,” said Noto after the services.
Engines from the Gilroy Fire Department participated in a formal motorcade procession earlier Monday morning, which departed from the Habing Family Funeral Home and made its way downtown. Traffic came to a brief halt, when a portion of Monterey was briefly closed to clear the way for escorts and the white hearse carrying Laizure’s remains.
During his turn at the podium, GPD Capt. Scot Smithee recalled how officers volunteered to stand a 24-hour vigil outside Jim’s hospital room at Saint Louise.
Police work is like another family, he said. It’s a way of life that is “forever a part of you.”
When Smithee received a call notifying him of Jim’s failing health, he drove to the hospital and visited with the former chief.
“I’m here with you,” he told him. “Not only am I here with you, but we’re all here with you, and will be here with you all the way through.”
None of the officers who stood watch over Jim during his last hours knew him personally, said Smithee, but that didn’t matter.
“It stands tribute to what our profession is about, but also what Chief Laizure was about.”
Laizure is survived by his four children, Lynn Noto, 57; of Gilroy, Rob Laizure, 55; of Orange County, Karen Laizure, 52; of El Dorado and Chuck Laizure, 51; of Clovis.