Over 25 years ago, Chuck Curry was in a single-engine plane, being flown back from Oregon by Jim Dupont. Curry had just worked a night shift, and after several hours of listening to the drone of the engine, he dozed off.
“Don’t ever fall asleep in an airplane with Jim Dupont,” Curry told a large audience gathered at the Kalispell Christian Center on Saturday.
Curry didn’t remember how long he had been asleep, but when he woke, the engine was off. He put one hand on the dashboard and one on the door, and looked at the pilot. Dupont sat with a big grin.
“What are you grabbing the plane for? The whole thing’s going to crash,” Dupont told Curry, still grinning.
Of course, Dupont was playing a joke, Curry said. It was just one of many such stories told at a March 24 memorial service held at the Kalispell Christian Center for Dupont, who passed away on March 19 after suffering an apparent heart attack. He was 65.
Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate Dupont’s life and grieve his passing, with laughter and tears appearing in seemingly equal proportions throughout the hour-long service. Law enforcement had a strong showing, due in large part to Dupont’s 30 years or so of service with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.
Before the service began at 1 p.m., a procession of law enforcement and emergency vehicles made its way from the Flathead County Justice Center to the Christian Center. The procession included vehicles from all over Northwest Montana, including the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, Montana Highway Patrol, the U.S. Forest Service, the police departments from Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Missoula and Hot Springs, the U.S. Border Patrol, and many of the valley’s fire departments.
The procession entered the Christian Center parking lot under a massive American flag, held over the roadway by fire engines from the Kalispell and Bigfork fire departments.
James R. Dupont was born on Nov. 6, 1946 in Springfield, Mass. His devotion to public service began at a young age.
“This may come as a surprise to some people in this room, but Jim was an altar boy,” Curry said, and was answered with plenty of laughter.
Dupont considered joining the Catholic priesthood, Curry said, but opted instead to join the U.S. Navy. It was there, in the aviation program, that he developed his lifelong love for flying.
He owned his own aviation company in San Diego, Calif., where he began his career in law enforcement with San Diego County’s sheriff’s department.
After moving to the Flathead, Dupont joined the Child Support Unit. From there, he moved on to begin his 30-year stint with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, with half of it served as sheriff. He was elected as sheriff in 1991 and remained so until 2006.
Dupont was the longest-serving sheriff in Flathead County history.
“He did not receive that honor because was bad at his job,” Curry, the current Flathead County sheriff, said. “Jim was not just a popular sheriff, Jim was a great sheriff.”
Several law enforcement officials, including Curry and former Kalispell Police Chief Frank Garner, used the same adjectives to describe Dupont as a professional: charismatic, honest, fair, consistent, and had the “uncanny ability to apply good, old-fashioned common sense to almost any situation.”
Curry said he learned more about how to be a professional from Dupont than anyone else, and Dupont stressed that the sheriff’s office was there to serve the public and should be as open and transparent as possible.
“He said, ‘Chuck, remember, we’re not law enforcement officers, we’re peace officers,’” Curry said.
After Dupont’s fourth term as sheriff, he briefly retired to the private sector. But if there was one thing he was not good at, it was retirement. He ran for and was elected as Flathead County commissioner for District 1 in 2008, and began his term in 2009.
He ran because he wanted to help make Flathead County a better place, Curry said.
“From his childhood to the day Jim died, he was a tireless public officer, public servant,” Curry said. “You never had to worry about where you stood with him.”
Dupont’s granddaughter sang a version of the song “Hallelujah” during the service, followed by a slideshow of photos from his life. The pictures showed a life well lived, full of laughter, smiles, family, friends and sheer enjoyment.
His family thanked the community for the “overwhelming support” they have received since Dupont’s passing, and other members of the audience spoke about practical jokes Dupont once played, or how he changed lives.
Dupont’s legacy will be one of integrity, humor, dedication and conviction, Curry said. He was a dedicated professional and a deeply rooted family man.
“That’s how Jim lived his life,” Curry said. “He lived each and everyday to the fullest; he wasn’t afraid of anything, except maybe snakes. He didn’t play it safe or take the easy route. He was truly an amazing man.”