‘Some people, when they leave, you know things are never going to be the same.’ – PLPD Chief Colin Rangnow
Former Port Lavaca Police officer Clifton “Cliff” Hillyard passed away Aug. 30, 2021, in Pearl.
Born in Port Lavaca in 1955, weighing 10 pounds and a whopping 24 inches long, he grew up to be a gentle giant of a man with strong compassion to serve.
His father, Charles Hillyard, worked for the Port Lavaca Police Department in the 1950s. Cliff followed in his father’s footsteps and served his community from June 28, 2004, until Feb. 22, 2012, when he retired due to his health. Port Lavaca Police Chief Colin Rangnow said he worked with Hillyard for about four years.
“Hillyard was a mountain of a man, yet was humble and kind. Hillyard tried to instill a sense of community in his officers,” said Rangnow said. “He would rather take time and resolve a situation than make an easy arrest. If an incident arose where he had to make an arrest, the arrestee would actually thank him. Hillyard was one of the last great officers. Hillyard treated everyone with respect and dignity. He had a philosophy of treating everyone as if they were a relative. Community members would request Hillyard to help resolve issues in their life. Some would even wait until he reported back to duty.”
Rangnow said Hillyard held great compassion for people and possessed a calming comfort level to those who knew him.
“What Hillyard instilled in his officers, I try to instill in my officers now,” said Rangnow. “When I took over about five years ago, the department was not as community-oriented as we needed to be. I did not want the department to be an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ department. Cliff’s mindset laid the foundation for our relationship with the community.”
Rangnow said Hillyard was a great man with a big, booming deep voice. He often shared advice and life experiences with his fellow officers. Little things brought joy to him, such as togetherness with family, and he enjoyed the simplicities in life, he said.
“He made the job better,” said Rangnow. “Some people, when they leave, you know things are never going to be the same.”
PLPD dispatcher Karen Neal said Hillyard did not see himself so much as a guardian of the community but as a part of it.
“Just because he had the duty to enforce the law, he never treated taking someone’s freedom away lightly. He would calm their fears and showed respect,” said Neal. “He was a natural-born teacher. Many of those who have worked with him have said they learned more about policing from him than anyone else. He didn’t just explain the how and why; he also demonstrated and inspired. In my 14 years with PLPD, no other officer has made such a lasting impression in our hearts.”
His wife of 14 years, Catherine Hillyard, also spoke of the love he had for his community. She said people did not treat him like he was a police officer, but a friend.
“As a police officer, he was so full of pride. His purpose was to keep peace. He loved the people and loved being out with kiddos, stopping to play basketball with them,” she said. “To him, it was being proactive. If you are there and they see you, and you become friendly, it made it easier to do his job. He loved them and the community loved him. He was respected,” she said. “It was his greatest joy to go into the community dressed as a cop, and kids would come out and talk to him.”
Catherine said Cliff loved music and was very gifted. He played in his family’s band, Sharon and the Westerners, when they were much younger, which is where the couple first met, but it was much later in life that their love really blossomed.
“When we met again in 2007, it was instant love. It was me and Cliff, and the world did not exist,” Catherine said in a tear-filled voice. “He was my other half, the most true love, husband and father, and the most wonderful man.”
The couple married in 2007, and together they blended a family of six children, which produced 15 grandchildren, now ages 1 to 22. Catherine said she would continue to live the rest of her life as he would have wanted, to be true, honest, and good.
“I can’t cry because I have nothing to cry about. I know we will be together again, and he is good in my heart,” said Catherine. “I don’t want to think about going on without him. I want to be where he is. What he left me is the most precious gift to be given to a woman, love and peace in my heart. He is out of pain. He is with his joyous family, mother, father, grandfather, his child ands sister. They are all singing in the choir.”
Cliff’s sister, Sharon Wilborn, reflected on his service as a police officer, his love for music, and, more importantly, how extremely kind and gentle of a man he was to everyone.
“He loved his family, and he loved retirement, his gardening and woodworking, and just living the simple country life. Cliff was so very talented,” said Wilborn, “I’m going to miss his light-hearted bickering back- and-forth with me. We will miss him so very much.”
Hillyard was a 1974 graduate of Calhoun High School, where he played football and was a first chair tenor in the choir.
Funeral arrangements are pending.