Raul Ramirez, retired Marion County Sheriff, dies at age 71

Raul Ramirez, the retired Marion County Sheriff remembered as a mentor by colleagues, died on Friday, Dec. 23. He was 71.

Ramirez, who lived in south Salem, served 10 years as sheriff. He retired in 2007 after working more than three decades in law enforcement and becoming the first Latino elected Marion County Sheriff.

“That gave a lot of folks a lot of pride. You know, it’s like having a basketball player that’s Latino, something like that. A hero,” said Roland Herrera, a recently retired Keizer city councilor and longtime friend of Ramirez. “It gave a lot of the young kids hope.”

Herrera described Ramirez as a natural leader with a calm demeanor, a sense of humor and a knack for speaking, teaching and conveying a message. 

“He was (the) real definition of a professional, whatever he did,” Herrera said.

In 1986, Ramirez and Herrera competed on the team that won the first ever Oregon Latino Basketball Tournament.

Herrera said Ramirez excelled in basketball and football at Woodburn High School but made his mark in track and field, prompting many younger Latino students to look up to him.

“He got some records there for a long time,” Herrera said.  

Former Woodburn Police Department Chief Robert Prinslow recruited Ramirez to his agency  “because of his display of strong leadership skills in high school,” hoping he would help boost its relationship with the community’s youth, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Thursday night.

Ramirez’s law enforcement career spanned 34 years.

He became the department’s first police cadet and was later hired as a part-time dispatcher.

In his first law enforcement job, he worked as a juvenile parole and probation officer for Marion County. He joined the sheriff’s office as a corrections officer and was promoted to deputy sheriff, corporal, detective, sergeant and eventually lieutenant, according to the sheriff’s office’s statement.

Ramirez began serving as Marion County Sheriff In 1997.

“It was a tough ride for him to ascend to the top. But he did it with class and dignity, and he showed us how to do it,” Herrera said.

Ramirez went on to win elections in 2002 and 2006, serving two terms and retiring in 2007 due to health issues, according to the sheriff’s office

He was named Oregon Sheriff of the Year in 2006. He also served as the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association President in 2007.

The sheriff’s office said in its statement said Ramirez “championed community building” and  “advocated for underrepresented populations.”

The agency said Ramirez was known for leading with the quote, “Children may not remember what you teach them but will always remember how you treat them.” 

Aside from serving as Marion County’s top cop, Ramirez enjoyed fishing, crabbing, woodworking, gardening, coaching youth sports, kayaking with his wife and traveling with his family, the statement said.

“He played a lot of roles, and from my perspective, he’s excelled in everything,” Herrera said.

Above all, he said Ramirez was a family man.

“He was just a wonderful person,” Herrera said. “There was nobody that could say anything negative about that guy.”

Ramirez passed away “peacefully” on Dec. 23, according to the sheriff’s office.

“Raul was a mentor to many of us over the years, and his work at the Sheriff’s Office and in the criminal justice community is still reflected in the work we do and the way we do it today, years after he retired,” Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast said in the statement.

Herrera said Ramirez showed him the ropes early in his career, encouraging him to run for office and giving him advice “every step of the way.”

“Raul was my hero,” he said. “He was a leader, and boy, he opened a lot of doors for a lot of folks. 

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter. Click I want to subscribe!

Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.