Notable Iowans: Cedar Rapids Police chief was proud of his service

Gareth “Jerry” Clift was well known for community work, TV spots

Published: December 30 2013 | 6:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:25 am in
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In the 1950s and '60s, Gareth “Jerry” Clift was a familiar face for many Cedar Rapids children.

Clift, who served with the Cedar Rapids Police for 31 years and was police chief from 1977 to 1979, was a visiting police officer on two locally produced children’s programs. He was a recurring guest on the “Marshall J. Show” in the 1950s and the “Dr. Max Show” in its early days in the 1960s.

He also spent countless hours in area classrooms, helping train children as safety patrol officers.

Diane Moore, his daughter, said her father thrived on mentoring children and young officers alike.

“He enjoyed working with the kids, watching them develop into a person with pride over what they did,” she recalled.

He also was an influence on the many rookie police officers who served under him. Many of them would go on to become police chiefs themselves, including Mike Klappholz and William “Bud” Byrne, who also died this year.

“I looked on him as a role model,” Klappholz said of Clift. “He was just somebody that you respected and someone you knew was a commanding figure.”

Klappholz said Clift was a steady presence in a department that expanded greatly during Clift's tenure. According to an article in The Gazette archives marking Clift’s retirement, there were 90 Cedar Rapids police officers when he joined the force in 1948. When he retired, they totaled 155.

At that time he told The Gazette he counted expanded computerization of the police department among his accomplishments.

Before being appointed police chief, Clift had served as acting chief twice and had been promoted to assistant chief of the uniformed division in 1968. He also served as assistant chief of the general services division. Police work was in his blood — his father Jesse Clift was police chief when his son joined the force.

Jerry Clift died April 26. He was 90 years old — a milestone Moore said he’d declared he wanted to reach as part of his “bucket list” years earlier.

Besides Moore and her husband, John Moore, Clift was survived by his son Denny Clift, his siblings Victor Clift and Susan Clift and his brother-in-law Bob Beem, along with many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

His wife, Helen Clift, died almost exactly a year before he did. They were high school sweethearts before they married.

She died April 10, 2012, five days after their 70th anniversary.

The couple had attended Roosevelt High School, from which Jerry Clift graduated in 1941, before joining the Army Air Corps as a bombardier on a B24. He was recalled during the Korean War as a captain in the Army Reserve and served in Germany.

Moore said her father was incredibly proud of his time in the armed forces, and that it laid the groundwork for his lifelong commitment to community service.

“I think he always wanted to serve people, to see if he couldn’t do something to make the world better,” she said. “He was very proud of being a police chief here in town, and he was very proud of being in the army.”

After his retirement, Jerry and Helen moved to Tuscon, Ariz., where he kept busy with a furniture business and a security job at a racetrack. The couple moved back to Iowa in 1998.

Clift was an avid golfer — Moore said he hit the course twice a week until he was 89 — and was involved in numerous community and state organizations.

When he died, Moore said many of the police officers who served under Clift came to his funeral and told her how much her father had meant to them. She said she also heard from students who remembered his face in their classrooms.

“It was very humbling,” she said. “I mean, we thought he was wonderful, but we didn’t realize other people did.”

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