Few things were off-limits to the capacity crowd that gathered Thursday night at the Manteca Senior Center to usher Willie Weatherford off into a peaceful retirement after serving 12 years as mayor.
Not jokes about how the former police chief used to recruit his officers based on their athletic ability on the gridiron or the softball field, or how he bounced back and forth up an invisible ladder between Manteca and Galt until he came out as the man with the gavel in his hand, or how his presence in Manteca seemed to make him a magnet for those who ended up pursuing a career in law enforcement.
If you were to ask former police chief Dave Bricker, it was all summed up in a simple photograph.
“This is back when he still had hope – when his career and his life were still ahead of him,” Bricker needled. “Back when he still believed in the goodness of men. And now, after all of these years in law enforcement and 18 years in politics – this, becomes that.”
And that went for just about anybody that knew him as well.
Emcee – or more appropriately, roast master – Rex Osborn kept in the spirit of the evening by skewering anybody and everybody he came across.
But he had some serious words for his former boss – the man that hired him and helped usher in a career that led all the way to, as Rex put it, “where he was training police chiefs.”
He himself recently retired, Osborn told Weatherford that his wife mandated that regardless of his work status, he still had to be out of the house between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. He still had to go find something to do.
“So, with that advice in mind, I thought about bringing you a loaf of bread so that you could go down to the park and feed the pigeons,” Osborn said. “But from what I understand the park is now closed and if you go there you’ll be arrested. They’ll just think that there’s a homeless incontinent man wandering around but they also closed the bathrooms so that’s going to be an issue.
“And it’s like you told me Willie – ‘This is all Steve DeBrum’s problem now.’”
One of the night’s best lines was delivered by former Mayor Carlon Perry who used to spar endlessly with Weatherford when the two of them were on the council together.
They just recently met and got the ball rolling on a project that will give the local Veterans of Foreign Wars a permanent home for the first time in its 80-plus year history.
And when talking about that, Perry couldn’t help but throw some digs in at his former adversary.
“I know a lot of you are sitting there right now and thinking – ‘What the heck is Carlon Perry doing at a Willie Weatherford retirement function?’ Well, I’d definitely rather we had this retirement party back in 2002 but, we didn’t.
“For those of you weren’t around, he beat my behind for mayor in 2002. So now hopefully that makes a little more sense.”
But being Mayor of Manteca – and Chief of Police – has afforded Weatherford some unique opportunities and given him some even better stories.
“You remember the mayor that we had to go and talk to because he (allegedly) beat up his tenant,” Osborn asked – referencing an assault charge that was lodged against Frank Warren when he was still mayor.
And Osborn dropped what could have been the joke of the night when he talked about how the police department has been forced to cut down over the years – first asking former chief Charlie Halford to stand up, then asking former chief Dave Bricker to stand up, and then asking current Chief Nick Obligacion to stand up. The disparity got a good laugh from the crowd and gave Obligacion something to go with when he stepped up to the lectern to deliver his comments.
He had told the story before, but back when he was a Monterey Sheriff’s Deputy he called in sick and came out to Manteca on the advice of a friend and attended the department’s K9 trials and spent the day chatting with a man in a white T-shirt and shorts. It wasn’t until later that night that he learned it was the chief of police. It was the same man who, when he learned that Obligacion had his wife, 3-year-old and infant daughter in the car when he was interviewing with him invited them all into his office.
But a few weeks later, after getting hired and writing a report, he tried to talk to that nice, attentive and down-to-earth man.
“And in the middle of the conversation he just started talking about something else entirely,” Obligacion said. “I knew right then where I stood at that department.
“Chief, I just want to say, I’ve been Chief now for three years and that same exact thing happens to me on a daily basis.”