MARTINEZ -- Retired Contra Costa Sheriff Warren Rupf, the county's own larger-than-life Wyatt Earp passed away early Thursday afternoon after a two-month battle with acute myeloid leukemia. He was 69.

"Warren was more than just a law enforcement leader," said Sheriff David Livingston, who succeeded Rupf last year. "He was a statesman and someone who cared very deeply about public safety and all its facets in this county.

"I hope I can become even half the sheriff he was."

Rupf died with his wife of 26 years, Carole, at his side in a Walnut Creek Hospital. The longtime Martinez resident is also survived by four adult children and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned but details are not yet final.

At 6 foot 6 inches tall, the handsome Rupf was a formidable physical presence whose entrance rarely went unnoticed.

Those who knew him well universally describe him as fiercely loyal to his family, friends and the Marines. And if you earned his displeasure, he made no secret of that, either.

The late sheriff's most obvious passion was the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office where he spent his 45-year law enforcement career.

Born in Oakland in April 1943, Rupf's parents moved their three young boys to Concord.

The eldest son, Rupf enrolled in community college after high school and took a job in the Contra Costa Times' press room. But he feared he would hit middle age -- about 35, as he wryly said during a profile interview two years ago -- and have little to show for it.


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He joined the Marines and while he said he loved the military order, he disliked a system that rewarded longevity before merit.

After a two-year stint in the Marines, he took and scored high on entry tests for the Sheriff's Office and the California Highway Patrol.

It was his home county who called him first.

Rupf put on the Contra Costa badge in 1965 and within 14 years, he had ascended to the agency's No. 2 position.

When then-Sheriff Richard Rainey ran for the Assembly in 1992, Rupf secured an appointment to fill the vacancy. He was elected two years later and never again faced a major re-election threat.

As sheriff, he led an agency that expanded from 523 employees in the 1990s to more than 1,000 when he retired. He also founded Sheriff's Charities, Inc., which donates thousands of dollars each year for youth and service programs.

Rupf was highly regarded throughout the state and serves as president of the California State Sheriffs Association.

The late sheriff's most trying days, he admitted before he retired in 2010, came in the aftermath of the discovery of Jaycee Dugard, a young woman held hostage by convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy, for 18 years in a house outside Antioch, during which time she was raped and bore two children fathered by Garrido.

Sheriff's deputies had gone to the home and talked with Garrido but never investigated further.

Many advised him against it, but Rupf stood in front of news cameras, apologized and explained how his agency had changed its policies as a result of the horrific incident. It was the right thing to do, he said.

"Warren always took great pride in his profession, his department and this county, said Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond. "But he was always a human being and gentleman first. He will be missed."

Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773 or Twitter @lvorderbrueggen.

IN THE LATE SHERIFF'S OWN WORDS
Retired Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf sent a classic email to friends on July 5, 2012, after he learned he had leukemia. Here are his words:
"Shipmates and others with whom I have shared so much,
"I choose an e-mail to share what follows to reduce the likelihood that the message gets caught up in politics or locker room editing (also an opportunity to respond to the charges that Marines cannot read or write.)
"Should you choose to offer any response, it also offers an easy to schedule means. I love you all but I am not excited by the idea of putting you (or me) on a path filled with sympathy cards and grown-man tears.
"While some tests are still being evaluated and treatment options explored, both are rather grim. I have acute myeloid leukemia.
"While rather morbid, this may be the only good news. When you buy this brand, you move rather quickly from check-in to checkout. I hate long, slow-moving lines.
"Some will say that I should have retired earlier and enjoyed the good life. I say: Poppycock, my life could not have been any better.
"Be it Marine Corps, Office of the Sheriff, going toe-to-toe with a real labor leader or a beer at the slop chute with an old-school reporter, you made my list of those whom made my life one of few regrets.
"I know that there are good men with whom I have lost electronic contact please consider sharing this with them as your paths cross and offer them my regards.
"Semper Fidelis,
Warren"