Friends used words like “family,” “integrity,” “honor,” “humble” and “humility” to describe the man who helped keep the Steamboat Springs community safe for more than three decades.
Former Steamboat Springs Police Chief JD Hays died Saturday morning after being diagnosed six weeks ago with terminal brain cancer.
“An awful lot of people were so shocked and saddened to hear of his sudden illness,” former city manager Paul Hughes said.
Hays was a cop in Los Angeles before moving to Steamboat to raise his two sons.
Hays was promoted to captain in 1983, and in 1997, he replaced former Police Chief Roger Jensen.
Hays retired on Jan. 6, 2012. To commemorate the occasion, friends and family gathered near the Mountain Fire Station where a section of road was renamed JD Hays Way.
Hays was choked up when he spoke but was in high spirits as always.
“If I’ve done anything in the last 15 years, it’s surround myself with competent people,” Hays said about his time as chief. “I’ve loved this job, and I’ve loved this community.”
In April 2013, Hays was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Western Colorado Peace Officers Association.
Hays died at his home in Parker. He is survived by his wife, Paula, and sons Scott and Tim.
A Vietnam War veteran, Hays will be buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery on Wednesday morning. There will then be a gathering at 10:30 a.m. at the PACE Center in Parker.
The Steamboat community will celebrate Hays’ life from 3 to 4 p.m. Friday at Strings Music Pavilion. A reception will follow.
Hundreds of people are expected to attend.
“With the news of his passing, we have had officers from 20 years ago that have been long gone contacting me about the news,” said Police Commander Jerry Stabile, who knew Hays since 1990. “He was a mentor to so many young men and women through his career. He was also fiercely loyal to his family, the city of Steamboat and the Steamboat Springs Police Department.”
Stabile said hearing about Hays’ diagnoses was frightening because Hays had a very clean lifestyle. He didn’t drink alcohol, ate healthy and worked out five days a week.
“He was 71, and he looked early 60s,” Stabile said.
Hays was an avid outdoorsman.
“He was famous for telling everyone that after Winter Carnival, hunting season was right around the corner, and after the Fourth of July, winter was just around the corner,” Stabile said. “He truly cared about everyone he came into contact with. He will truly be missed by many, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
For more than two decades, Hughes worked for city governments as an administrator, which meant he worked with numerous police chiefs.
“JD was head and shoulders above any of the others,” Hughes said.
Hughes said Hays refused to hire what Hays referred to as “badge-heavy idiots,” or officers who abused their power.
“So many times, you see people in authority that turn into jerks as soon as they get a bit of authority, and that’s really upsetting to me,” Hays said at his retirement ceremony. “All people need to be treated with respect and dignity, even the bad ones, and that’s what I’ve always emphasized when I’ve been here.”
In lieu of flowers, the Hays family is asking people to consider donating to the Wounded Warrior Project.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland
Chief Hays retires
Retiring Steamboat Springs Police Department Chief JD Hays speaks during the dedication of JD Hays Way.