| PAMPA -- He sits at his desk, spittoon handy, poodle nearby, deputy in the front room. It is his county, and everyone knows it. R.H. "Rufe" Jordan has been sheriff of Gray County for 54 years.
"I don't go armed much," the raspy-voiced, eloquent 72-year-old says, his lower lip cradling a fistful of chewing tobacco. "Oh, sometime, I'd go out at night and, yes, I'm armed. All the other officers must go armed. We have gotten along I think very nicely.''
Most of the cases in his years as sheriff have been "routine violations of statutory law,'' Jordan says, such as check forgeries and burglaries of habitations.
"I think we've been very fortunate for a long time."
Patting his poodle, Honey, Jordan responds to questions thoughtfully, using an almost oratory tone.
"No sir, I never have shot a man. I'm very grateful for that ... I've always been kind of maybe just a gentle old fella who goes by routine work every day."
Jordan was one of 14 long-term Texas sheriffs selected by Texas Monthly for profiles. The choice, Jordan says, is something he can't understand. He says he never did much like being written about.
Jordan says changes in the penal code, forensic sciences and communication has improved law enforcement in recent years.
"I would say that progress has prevailed ... from where I sit and view it in my own humble way."
The increase in education and certification for law enforcement officers has also improved, Jordan says.
"A man in law enforcement must like to be in it. He has to have certifications, academic training, so much more than 30-35 years ago."
As for criminals, Jordan says, "Sometimes, I think they have more rights than some of our people who are abiding by the law of this land. These things may not suit a number of people -- as an example, an offender who must have an attorney appointed. The attorney does represent those clients to the best of his ability. Sometimes I wonder about that because it is the taxpayers who are paying them, but at the same time, the constitution says it should be so, and that is the second greatest document in the world.
"We could be picky, but I don't think that is what we need do. Progress has prevailed; our law enforcement must go along with the law of the land."
Some of the biggest changes he has seen, especially in the last 15 years, are the kind no one has control over, such as the loss of friends who were also sheriffs, and the replacement of them.
"Truly a great bunch of guys. And I miss them. And I'll say this, they're missed in the state of Texas. Mrs. Jordan used to say there's a different breed of cats now.
"The old sheriff still wears boots and a hat -- most of the old boys that have been in the office the past 3~35 years," Jordan says. "I've seen a change in the attire in the last 20 years. I think it's just fine. But a fellow that has no more hair than I have must wear hats."
Jordan grew up on a ranch where his father worked about 3 1/2 miles from Groom. He attended high school in Pampa.
"My father was a deputy sheriff here, and constable, for about 15-16 years. I didn't pay any attention to this law enforcement business."
But Jordan did work as a jailer under then-Sheriff Lon L. Blanscet in 1932, and later for G.H. Kyle.
"After I served as jailer for Blanscet, I didn't really ever intend to go into this business at all."
Jordan worked for Dinciger Refinery, Inc. after working 14 months as a jailer under Blanscet. But in September of 1945, Dinciger sold out to Phillips Petroleum. And after Dinciger was sold to Phillips, Jordan went back to work as a jailer for Kyle.
"Then I ran for the office in 1950, " he says.
Jordan has lived in an apartment on the fourth floor of the courthouse since his first term as sheriff. A brass plaque next to a black buzzer marks the door, as does the stenciled word 'Private.' The plaque says Mr. and Mrs. Jordan. Mrs. Jordan died 11 months ago.
Honey, the white toy poodle, was given to the Jordans by their only child, a daughter.
"She (Honey) doesn't know anything but the courthouse, and its family."
The county has changed -- the population has grown. But Jordan doesn't seem to mind.
"I used to know all of our folk, yes, and still do many. But there has been growth in this county, the past seven or eight years. The town has done exceptionally well. The larger your county, people-wise, the larger your county seat. The growth will bring more violations of the law. But I feel that Gray County, Texas, for many years, has been a very well regulated county -- even before I came into the office.''
Jordan was reelected this November. He has no immediate plans to retire.
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