The plan was for Ron Wilson to attend his retirement party after more than 20 years with the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office and then head up to the home of childhood friend Jim Jensen to record some music.
“We were just going to spend time pickin’ and grinnin’ and doing whatever the hell we wanted,” Jensen said. “But I guess that’s not going to happen now.”
On the evening of Jan. 7, Wilson — a 22-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who rose to the rank lieutenant and headed up the office’s detectives division for the last decade — died from heart complications a week after he retired.
Friends and colleagues described Wilson, who died at the age of 64, as a dedicated family man and law enforcement officer.
“When he was away from his office, it was all about his family,” said Seth Weston, a retired Yellowstone County undersheriff who has known Wilson since 1978. “But when he was working it was all business. Ron was always willing to help, no matter what the project or whether it was professional or personal.”
Wilson was born in 1947 in Colorado and moved to Wolf Point as a young boy. Jensen said the two became fast friends at the age of 4 while going to school together and have kept close ties ever since.
He described Wilson as a lifelong music lover who played rhythm guitar and sang lead vocals in several bands over the past few decades. In high school, he ran track and spent his free time fishing and hunting, hobbies he continued up until his final days.
After high school, Wilson bounced around to a few jobs before following in his father’s footsteps and joining the Wolf Point police department in the late 1970s.
Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier remembers working with Wilson during that time and said he was an outstanding investigator.
“He’d walk in there and kind of nonchalantly be there and criminals would start telling him stuff,” Meier said. “If you couldn’t get something out of somebody, you’d send him in.”
Wilson then joined the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office and worked his way to the rank of undersheriff before moving into law enforcement jobs in Colstrip and Columbus.
In 1988, he joined the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, where he would spend the rest of his career. During that time, Wilson worked numerous assignments, graduated from the FBI Academy and rose through the ranks to achieve the rank of lieutenant and run the detectives division.
“He was very professional, very knowledgeable in investigations,” Sheriff Mike Linder said.
Weston, who first met Wilson in 1978 while working in Wolf Point, said he was always quick to adapt new technology and equipment on the job but even quicker to help people out.
“His purpose was to take care of people that needed help,” he said.
During his time with the office, Wilson worked many of the biggest cases the county investigated and in 2011, the Downtown Exchange Club named Wilson as one of its Officers of the Year.
“It’s really a loss for our community that Ron’s gone so quickly,” said Scott Twito, Yellowstone County attorney. “We miss him, and it’s a sad day to see someone like Ron Wilson pass away. He was one of the true classics.”
Outside of work, Wilson cared fiercely for his wife, six children and 10 grandchildren, Weston said. He could often be found planning fishing and boating trips with them.
“In his personal life, he was so family-oriented,” Weston said. “During his time off, he was always off to some lake somewhere, taking his family with him.”
Jensen said that in knowing each other since the age of 4, he and Wilson became like family, spending summers fishing and hunting and getting together whenever they could, even if they’d been out of touch for a while.
“It was one of those things that if either one of us needed somebody, we’d go to each other,” he said. “You’ve got friends, and then there’s us.”
Jensen said Wilson had bypass surgery about 10 years ago and that he was doing fine until recently, when things “went downhill really fast.” For much of the last quarter of 2011, Wilson was out of work on medical leave, Linder said.
Looking back on their friendship, Jensen said he and Wilson had plenty left to do and that many people will miss him.
“Our plans didn’t materialize,” he said. “This ain’t the way it’s supposed to be but I suppose we don’t always get a say in that.”