One of Clark County’s most popular sheriffs once boasted he had never been forced to fire a shot in anger.
“I shot in the air a couple of times to scare someone, but all those years all I needed was a round rock in my pocket,” said Clarence S. McKay, at a retirement interview in 1970. A lifetime resident of Clark County, McKay was a real rarity – a Republican who won election after election in this predominately Democratic county.
Born March 8, 1904, in Klickitat County, McKay served as a Clark County deputy sheriff for 17 years before he was first elected sheriff in 1950. His election and subsequent re-elections were laid primarily to the fact that McKay seemed to know almost everyone in the county personally.
“I don’t think there is a public meeting held anywhere in the county that McKay doesn’t attend,” said a contemporary.
McKay was known by his staff as a practical joker, who loved to call the sheriff’s department at 3 a.m., disguising his voice with Swedish or German accents. “I don’t think he ever slept,” said Chuck Brink, who had served under McKay.
An extreme conservative, McKay was intolerant of those who, in his opinion, were wasting taxpayers’ dollars. He was puzzled; he once required a staff of 95. “Why, back in the old days we had just one guard watching 100 prisoners,” he told an interviewer.
McKay also caused public amusement when it was revealed he grew a small vegetable garden just outside his office at the courthouse. Like tax money, he didn’t like to see good ground wasted.
McKay died of a heart attack Feb. 18, 1986, at age 81.