After a long career as a public servant, where he served as sheriff, supervisor and mental health advocate in San Mateo County, Don Horsley, passed away last Friday morning at the age of 80.
Don Horsley was born in San Francisco, but moved to Daly City where he attended Westmoor High and later graduated with honors from San Francisco State University in 1969.
His mother worked as an accountant for the Jewish Welfare Association in San Francisco and his father worked at the San Francisco produce markets. He was an active member of his local union.
When he was 12, his father suffered a debilitating stroke and for the rest of his life he was disabled, which is why he had to find odd jobs while attending school, including delivering newspapers and working at a gas station.
While attending San Francisco State, he decided to apply to become a police officer and after his training, he worked at the Daly City Police Department. After earning a bachelor's degree from the state, he continued his education and earned a secondary teaching credential.
After graduating from college, she worked as a youth counselor in the Probation Department of the San Mateo County and as a teacher for high school students. He decided to pursue a career in law enforcement and initially did so for the city of Pacifica, before joining the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.
By 1972, he began his career with the Sheriff's Office as a patrol deputy in the city of East Palo Alto. He rose through the ranks and spent much time improving the training of deputy sheriffs and correctional officers. Later, he was instrumental in the planning and construction of a new correctional facility that resulted in changing the way the county correctional system was managed.
The new facilities included medical and mental care where Don was responsible for the adoption of a new management system called direct supervision, which required correctional officers and officers to work closely with detainees, resulting in a sharp decrease, almost total, of incidents of violence, according to his own biography written by Horsley himself in 2010, when he ran for San Mateo County Supervisor for District 3.
?I ran for San Mateo County Sheriff in 1993 because I saw the need for innovative leadership, modernization and better tools for law enforcement officers. “I was the outsider but I won a very close campaign,” he said then.
?Make better things for people? was the theme of Mr. Horsley's tireless career as a public servant.
After 14 years as sheriff, Mr. Horsley retired in 2007. That retirement was short-lived, however, as he won a seat on the Sequoia Healthcare District board of directors. Then, in 2010, he was elected to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.
While on the Board, Mr. Horsley prioritized improving mental health services, expanding access to county parks and open spaces, curbing gun violence, providing more beds and services to those experiencing homelessness, and improve emergency preparedness, among other things. He was re-elected twice and retired in 2022 after serving the maximum three four-year terms.
“Don was a class act and a man who cared deeply about the most vulnerable in our community,” said County Executive Mike Callagy. ?He had a distinguished career that spanned more than 40 years in this county and was a good friend to many of us.
?Don was a caring man with a great sense of humor and lived a full and distinguished life. “He made a big difference in this county and his legacy will live on through all the great projects and jobs he participated in,” Callagy stressed.
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