One cartoon at a time
Laughter served Gil Stone well as a boy, one cartoon at a time.
The same was true for three decades in law enforcement.
In the cubicles of Mesa County law enforcement agencies, don’t be surprised to find Stone’s spur-of-the-moment drawings: black ballpoint pen applied to white paper.
“I’m very quick as far as reducing a concept to drawing, then putting on a caption,” said Stone, 68.
An investigator with the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, covering five elected district attorneys over 30 years, Stone was regularly asked by various police agencies to memorialize certain real-life humorous experiences encountered by local police.
Like the time a Grand Junction Police Department officer got more than he bargained for trying to clear a wayward herd of cows from Interstate 70, he said.
Stone cartooned the event, framed it and gave it to the officer involved.
“I used to talk about being the next Charles Schulz,” Stone said.
“That was my dream, at it still is.”
The man who solved murders and other major crimes, built communities in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, served his country in the U.S. Army, patrolled the roadways of Colorado, and strummed guitar to feed his family has found his true passion in cartooning.
“I lose track of time and hunger … I immerse myself in it and everything else just kind of disappears,” Stone said.
“Even the cats don’t get fed,” his wife, Gillian, interjected in a recent interview.
Out of Africa
Gil Stone said his father, Gilbert, had natural ability in art. Stone was raised in Philadelphia.
“I’ve always had that sense of humor, which, as a street kid, sometimes is very valuable to have,” Stone said.
The family moved to Florida, where Stone dropped out of college two months shy of graduation. This, in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“I was just kind of aimless ... wasn’t enthusiastic about my education,” Stone said.
He embraced a Kennedy cause: the Peace Corps.
Stone was deployed to northern Nigeria, where, among other duties, he assisted Red Cross volunteers in 1966 during a violent military coup. He also met his wife, Gillian, while serving.
He counts his Peace Corps time as “priceless.”
“I learned a great deal about myself and what I was capable of doing, and enduring, my ability to adapt and innovate,” Stone said.
Stone was drafted into the U.S. Army while in Peace Corps service, and returned home a newly minted officer. He and Gillian married two days before he deployed to Vietnam.
Assigned to Fort Carson upon his return, Stone left the Army in 1973 and couldn’t find work over a period of several years.
He picked up a 12-string guitar and bought a cheap sound system.
“I sang for my supper,” Stone said, recounting performances around Colorado Springs at “nice clubs to toilets.”
“There was one time a fight broke out and someone threw a pool ball through one of my speakers,” he said. “I kept playing because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
A tip from a pushy life insurance salesman one day would change everything.
“He says, ‘I think you’d make a good State Trooper,’ ” Stone said. “I looked at my wife and kids and decided they do deserve something more stable.”
“I applied for the (State Patrol) academy and got a haircut,” he said.
Graduating third in his class, Stone chose the State Patrol’s Grand Junction troop after colleagues had raved about the area’s natural beauty.
Stone was hired as an investigator in the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office in 1982 by then DA Terry Farina.
“I had always wanted to be a general investigator as opposed to just traffic work,” he said.
Influencing some of Mesa County’s highest profile investigations over the past three decades, Stone’s work has put men in prison for life and freed others. Stone said his job occasionally brought him into conflict with them.
“It never really got to the point where we had an unpleasant confrontation,” Stone said. “It was professionals looking at things from different perspectives, who had different opinions ...”
Stone paused in his answer, then continued, “... and then hoping like hell the right thing happened after everything checked out.”
“While our differences in opinion were not always comfortable at the time, they were beneficial to the cause of justice,” he said.
‘Make them laugh’
Faced with pending layoffs in the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, Stone opted to retire in December 2010.
Stone operated his own private investigation business, before closing it down last September. His days are spent in a small studio inside his Redlands home, chasing Charles Schulz dreams and having a laugh or two.
“Things are bad and people are down,” he said. “A cartoon can make them laugh.”