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WWII, Korean War veteran William Gilkinson dies at 94

Army National Guard Honor Guard officers extend full military honors. [MELODY BURRI/FOR MESSENGER POST MEDIA/TNS]

William Gilkinson, a former Tucson police chief, died Jan. 2 from complications after heart surgery.

Gilkinson, 94, was in hospice care and family was with him when he died, said his daughter Patricia Gilkinson.

Gilkinson, a World War II and Korean War veteran, joined the police force in 1951, climbing the ranks to police chief, a position he held from 1969 to 1981. He retired after 30 years on the force.

In 1987, Gilkinson ran as a Republican for Tucson mayor and was defeated by Democrat Tom Volgy.

Patricia Gilkinson described her father as a “kind man who never refused to help anyone in need. He was always helping family with any financial difficulties, and he learned from my mom to support charities,” adding that No. 1 on his list was the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

“My father was a spiritual man and he had a heart of gold. If he saw a person on the side of the street with a sign asking for help, he would hand them money and wish them well,” recalled his daughter.

Paul Hallums, a retired Tucson Police Department captain who was hired under Gilkinson in 1970, described the former chief as a traditionalist with a strong military background.

“We stood during daily inspections before we went out on the street,” said Hallums, recalling the strict dress code and a demanding chain of command.

“Promotions now within the Police Department are public ceremonies attended by family and friends, but back then it was different,” Hallums said. “It was private and when I got promoted to sergeant, (Gilkinson) had me come up to his office and he had a one-on-one with me. He explained the importance of my responsibilities, and he was thorough and kind.

“It made an impression on me that he took the time to sit me down and explain the job,” said Hallums, who also spent time with Gilkinson at Rotary Club of Tucson meetings, where Gilkinson would celebrate his birthday among friends. The former chief also was a founder decades ago of The Police Retirees, a group of former TPD officers and civilian employees who gather monthly for lunch and to catch up on their lives.

During his service to TPD, Gilkinson graduated from the FBI Academy and served as head of the intelligence unit and commanded anti-vice operations, including investigations into narcotics and prostitution, according to a 1960 Arizona Daily Star article.

When he became police chief, major programs he implemented included: helicopter patrol; the Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad, which combined area law enforcement agencies; upgrading TPD’s police academy; developing the bomb squad; and bringing in patrol dogs. He also initiated team policing and a sex-crimes detail, including victims receiving follow-up at the Southern Arizona Mental Health Clinic.

Gilkinson was born in New York City on Sept. 17, 1925, and before graduating from high school he joined the Army Air Forces, said his daughter. He was a gunner on a B-29 on numerous missions in the Pacific theater during World War II, receiving citations and commendations. He also served in the Korean War and flew training missions with the B-36 bomber group in Fort Worth, Texas.

He later became a gunnery instructor in Tucson, meeting his future wife, Ellen Rose Buchanan, at an event at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The two married after Gilkinson finished his military service.

Gilkinson was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years. He is survived by four children, four grandchildren and a great-grandson.

A memorial service, including the TPD Honor Guard, is set for March 14 at 2 p.m. at Adair Funeral Home’s Avalon Chapel, 8090 N. Northern Ave., in Oro Valley.

The family asks that donations be made to The 100 Club of Arizona at to assist families of first responders who are seriously injured or killed in the line of duty.


© 2020 The Arizona Daily Star