Beloved game warden, sheriff and author remembered for humor, generosity

John Ford memorial draws hundreds to Unity College
By Ethan Andrews | Nov 28, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews John Ford Jr. and Judy Ford, son and wife of the late John Ford Sr., laugh with others at one of the many offbeat stories shared Nov.  24 during a memorial celebration for the beloved Waldo County law officer.

Unity — A crowd of 300 gathered at the Unity College gymnasium Nov. 24 to celebrate, with hilarious tales and heartfelt memories, a beloved former game warden, sheriff, author and artist.

John Ford Sr. died Nov. 17 after his fifth bout with cancer. He was 71.

Speakers at the memorial celebration recalled golf course meetings and encounters with X-rated movies and devices, "arousing" peals of laughter from the crowd. They also gave heartfelt tributes to a man who mentored a generation of law enforcement officers, forged deep connections in the community he policed, and faced the end with grace and dignity.

James Ross, chief deputy of the Somerset County Sheriff's Office, recalled a run-in with Ford that launched his own 22-year career as a game warden and showed him a compassionate side of law enforcement. Ross, then 16, was ice fishing without a license. Ford let him off the hook and later took him under his wing.

Beth Staples, a friend and former editor of The Republican Journal, recalled that during his time in law enforcement, Ford connected with everyone he met, even with those who were on the wrong side of the law.

"Remember that time you arrested me?" she said, speaking the line of an ex-perpetrator. "And off they would go to have a beer."

Ford started his career in law enforcement in 1970 as a game warden with the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and reportedly spent his first night with the service at Unity College. During his 20 years as a game warden, he collected tales of encounters with poachers, and an assortment of wounded animals — many of which he adopted.

Ford was twice elected sheriff of Waldo County and later served as chief deputy under Sheriff Scott Story. As a young man, he served in the Air Force. He taught at Unity College and served as a civil deputy for the Waldo County Sheriff's Office in his retirement.

In the mid-1990s, during Ford's second term as sheriff, Staples convinced him to publish the stories that then existed only in his diaries and within the walls of the Sheriff's Office as banter among cops. The result was a regular newspaper column that became the basis of a successful series of books. On Saturday, she described visiting Ford in the hospital before he died and finding a packed room with Ford at the center, still telling stories.

Some of those stories were retold on Saturday, and a recurring theme was Ford's own comic misfortunes.

These happened both on and off the job, as speakers recalled — knocking out power to the town of Troy while trying to dislodge a beaver dam with dynamite, getting Christmas lights and dog runs wrapped around the axle of his snowblower, leaving a car dealership in someone else's car, and botching the euthanasia of a deer with shooting skills that "never really came around."

In another incident, Ford was caught off guard in the woods after underestimating a stomach bug. While trying to relieve himself, he accidentally "did his business" in the hood of his snowmobile suit, which he then cut off with a pocket knife and returned the rest of the suit claiming it was defective.

Mark Nickerson, a retired Maine state trooper who joined forces with Ford as "Two Old Cops" on a rolling book tour, recalled Ford's words of advice for his own memorial:

"'Nickerson, this is not a somber occasion,'" he said. "'Make sure that people are laughing when they leave.'

"I said, well, that's easy. I'll just tell them your stories."

Ford published three books of his stories and saw an early printing of his fourth, "Living the Dream," now available from North Country Press.

A framed image on display Nov. 24 at a memorial celebration shows the late John Ford Sr. on the cover of his first collection of tales from his career as game warden. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Beth Staples, a former editor of The Republican Journal, speaks at a Nov. 24 memorial celebration of the late John Ford Sr., whom she coaxed into recording stories from his time as a game warden in a regular newspaper column that won awards and became the basis for a popular book series. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
James Ross, chief deputy of Somerset County Sheriff's Office, shares stories of escapades with the late John Ford Sr., an early mentor, during a memorial celebration Nov. 24 in Unity. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
A member of Maine Warden Service presents a flag to Judy Ford on Nov. 24 during a memorial celebration of her late husband, John Ford Sr. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Belfast attorney Lee Woodward is framed by the red dress jackets of the Maine Warden Service as speaks Nov. 24 at a memorial celebration of former game warden John Ford Sr. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Waldo County Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton, background left, and Chief Deputy Jason Trundy listen as former Sheriff Scott Story speaks Nov. 24 at a memorial celebration of John Ford Sr., who served as Waldo County sheriff from 1991 to 1999. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
John Ford Jr. speaks at a memorial celebration for his father Nov. 24 in Unity. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Maine Game Warden Chaplain Kate Braestrup holds an urn bearing the remains of John Ford Sr. after a memorial celebration in his honor Nov. 24 at Unity College. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Mark Nickerson stands to speak at a memorial celebration of the late John Ford Sr. The retired Maine state trooper joined with Ford as "Two Old Cops" sharing colorful memories at local speaking engagements. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
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