By Michelle Seeber
Nelson Worley was clever when it came to tracking down crime suspects.
Once, police were chasing a man on foot when Worley circled around in his car, rolled the window down and said, “Hey, buddy, you need some help?”
The guy jumped in the car — and Worley handcuffed him.
So the stories go about Worley, a former Curry County sheriff and retired police chief who died about 1 a.m. Sunday at Laurel Plains Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Clovis. He was 86.
“He was a big, strong man, rough and tumble, and he had eyes that could look right through you,” said Greg Southard, 44, whose father was close friends with Worley. Southard told the story about the suspect jumping in Worley’s car.
“He could size you up. He had a real sense of discipline,” Southard said.
Worley’s oldest son, Dwayne, 64, of Roswell, called his father a compassionate man, who did things in his own way.
“He was a tough guy,” Dwayne Worley said. “He touched many lives.”
Nelson Worley gave Clovis City Manager Ray Mondragon his first job in law enforcement — dispatching at the Clovis Police Department.
Mondragon spent 27 years with the department before retiring as chief of police.
Former State Sen. and former Police Chief Caleb Chandler, 61, was Worley’s deputy police chief for several years until Worley talked him into running for senator.
“He was my campaign manager, and he got me elected,” Chandler said.
Worley also was responsible for pushing legislation in Santa Fe that resulted in the New Mexico Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial.
The wall has inscribed on it the names of officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
In June 2000, in honor of Worley and his accomplishments, the building that houses the Clovis Police Department was named Nelson Worley Law Enforcement Complex.
Chandler said Worley trained and supervised several political figures. FBI Agent Stan Lecher, who now is a senior administrator at the FBI Academy in Virginia, was a detective under Worley’s command. Matt Murray, chief of the New Mexico Department of Transportation, was trained under Nelson’s command.
“He left a legacy of influence that will remain in this area a long time,” Chandler said.
Worley, Chandler said, had a “general management approach” to law enforcement.
“When the perpetrator of the crime was in jail, we went home,” Chandler said. “He was very hard on serious crimes and one of those guys who dedicated himself to law enforcement.”
Worley went to work for the Clovis Police Department in 1943. He became police chief in November 1945, according to information provided by Mondragon.
In 1957, he accepted a deputy’s position with the Curry County Sheriff’s Department and in December 1959 took over the unexpired term of the departing sheriff.
He was elected sheriff for two consecutive terms before stepping down for a term, winning elections for the position again in 1966 and 1968.
He returned to the police department as chief in 1973 and continued to serve in that capacity until his retirement in 1983.
Worley is survived by his wife Mildred, and three sons, Dwayne, Cal, 62, of Lubbock, and Michael, 60, of Mississippi.
Services are pending with Steed-Todd Funeral Home.