County mourns former Sheriff John Didion

<p>Former Pacific County Sheriff John Didion</p>

SOUTH BEND — John Didion, a professional football player who went on to become Pacific County Sheriff and a leader in Washington state law enforcement, died last week at age 66.

Didion was in routine touch with friends earlier in the day on Friday, Dec. 6, but suffered cardiac arrest that evening. He was Life Flighted to Portland and placed in intensive care at St. Vincent Medical Center. With his family gathered by his side, he died peacefully last Tuesday.

After a successful career in the National Football League (see details on today’s sports page), Didion and his family settled in Pacific County where he served as sheriff from 1998-2010.

According to current Sheriff Scott Johnson, Didion began his career with Pacific County as a road deputy and was later assigned as the D.A.R.E. officer, working to combat drug use among young people. 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 from 1998 to 2010. In 2009-10, Didion was 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. He will be missed by many,” Johnson said in a statement of condolence issued last Tuesday.

Didion wrote a weekly column for the Chinook Observer, in which he reported on trends in local crime and on his efforts to obtain better law-enforcement funding for rural counties. He was an effective lobbyist in the Legislature, helping win state appropriations for deputies, prosecutors and support staff to combat drugs in Southwest Washington. Didion was a key supporter of the Naselle Youth Camp for at-risk youth, which has faced numerous near-closures by the Legislature over the years.

“He worked to keep that facility open when they faced state budget challenges,” Johnson said.

Didion was a warm, humorous and self-deprecating man, who had a wealth of funny stories about his time in law enforcement and with the NFL during a era when legends were made by his coach, Vince Lombardi, and a host of Hall of Fame players. He played in 80 games, primarily with the Washington Redskins and the New Orleans Saints. As an offensive lineman and center, Didion recently recalled one game in which Lombardi nonchalantly sent him back into play after Didion’s seriously broken thumb was taped up on the sidelines. His enormous, gnarled hands were capable of delivering the firmest, knuckle-crunching handshake in the county.

Following his loss to Johnson in the November 2010 general election — he won in south county but was heavily out-polled by Johnson in north county — Didion successfully began a fresh chapter in his life. He lost weight, grew a ponytail and re-doubled his care for his family.

He also began playing a leadership role in a major lawsuit against the NFL over concussion injuries suffered by players, who were comparatively poorly protected and compensated during careers in the 1960s and ‘70s. This September, the league settled with Didion and about 4,500 other retirees for a total of $765 million.

Although some players questioned why the settlement wasn’t larger considering the huge profits enjoyed by the NFL, Didion expressed satisfaction that the money and other provisions of the agreement would ensure that his healthcare wouldn’t ever become a burden to his family. The wellbeing of his wife Anne Marie, their children and grandchildren was of paramount importance to him throughout his life.

The pastor of the family’s Bethany Lutheran Church in Astoria said this week that a memorial service is likely to be held for Didion sometime after Christmas. Details will be announced when they become available.

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