Thursday, April 21, 2022

Gil Schultz

Retired Houston Homicide Sergeant and Brazos County District Attorney Investigator Gil Schultz passed away this morning.  He had been in ill health for some time, and I had been dreading this day for a solid three years now, it seems.  It is strange how no matter how expected bad news may be, there is no adequate defense you can build against being heartbroken when it finally comes.

It is without any level of hyperbole that I can say that Gil Schultz changed my life to such a degree that I honestly would not be where I am today had it not been for him.  The influence he had on my life was leaps and bounds more profound than any other human being on earth outside of my biological family.  From my career path to where I live to very basic parts of my personality, the effect that he had on my life can not be overstated.  He was like a second father to me, and he, his wife Gay, and his sons Ron and Rick all treated me like family from the beginning.

I first met Gil in April of 1994.  I was a junior at A&M, engaged to my high school girlfriend, and working for my dad at Newman Printing Company in Bryan.  I wanted to be the District Attorney of Brazos County when I grew up and planned on going to law school in the vague and ambiguous way that kids have goals in life that they have yet to make an actual plan for achieving.  

Bill Turner, the elected District Attorney for Brazos County, came by the office to pick up some printing and my dad introduced me to him.  When Bill found out that I was at A&M and had an interest in law enforcement, he suggested that I do an academic internship with his office, working under the supervision of his investigator, Gil Schultz.  (Funny side note:  I thought Bill had said "Gail Schultz" and was surprised to find out Gil was a man when I met him.).  Bill might as well have offered me backstage passes to a Stones concert, I was so excited.

I dusted off a suit that I had worn my junior year of high school for a mock trial (it barely fit) and reported for work the next morning.  I was let into the D.A.'s Office and told where to find Gil.  When I arrived, he was sitting at his desk, reading the newspaper.

Gil in his natural habitat.

He didn't appear to notice when I walked in the door, so I knocked on the door frame.  After several additional seconds, he folded down his newspaper, looked me up and down from head to toe, and then snorted out a laugh.

He then went back to reading his newspaper.

Not knowing what to do, I just stood there like an idiot in the doorway.  Eventually, he said, "You know, you can sit down."  So I did.  He kept reading his newspaper.  I sat there, uncomfortably. 

His first words of actual conversation came to me when he said:  "This Tonya Harding lady seems like a real b*tch."  (I know I'm dating myself, but the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Story was HUGE news at the time.)

Eventually, he put down the newspaper and he started talking to me about the job as an academic intern and what all it entailed.  It was supposed to be a semester-long program that I was going to do over the summer where I could get some college credits.  At the end of the summer, though, I didn't want to leave.  So I stayed and stayed.  Right up until the week when I moved to Houston to start law school.  I was there for over two years and they were some of the best days of my life, thanks to Gil.

Our primary job in those days was serving subpoenas.  We spent hours in the car together, hunting down witnesses for trials.  When it became apparent that I was going to be sticking around after my initial academic internship was over, Gil started treating me more or less like a junior investigator.  Because of his experience with HPD Homicide, local agencies would usually call him out to homicide scenes and autopsies (that were conducted in Bexar County back then).  When they called him, he would call me to come join him.  We spent countless hours together and I had the opportunity to learn so incredibly much about the insane amount of work that goes into even the simplest of murder cases.  I got to work alongside detectives in Brazos County who would become heroes to me -- Sgt. John Crenshaw, Harlan Pope, Chris Kirk, Kenny Elliott and Randy Glidewell, just to name a few.

Working alongside Gil felt like playing Robin to his Batman, and to be accepted as, I guess, "tolerable" by those guys was all I needed to know that I was on the career path that I wanted to be.  One day, Gil made an off-the-cuff remark where he referred to me as his "partner," and that's when I really felt like I had landed somewhere that I belonged.  

Gil told me about his life and times in the Houston Police Department, where he had spent 26 years, starting in 1960.  He'd spent ten years in patrol, where he had done everything from guarding the parade route for John F. Kennedy on November 21, 1963, to standing guard at the stage when the Beatles played at the Sam Houston Coliseum.  Years later, I found an old Houston Chronicle photograph where an annoyed Officer G.C. Schultz stood with his arms crossed and his back to the stage as John, Paul, George, and Ringo played in the background.  His favorite celebrity moment was guarding the Monkees, however.  He really loved those guys -- something I always thought was funny.

He told me of his days in Houston Homicide, working with the best detectives in business and trying cases with Legends of the Game like Johnny Holmes, Rusty Hardin, Lyn McClellan, and others who were prosecuting.  He was particularly close with Rusty, who by 1994 was a legend of the defense world.  He took great pride in telling me that he knew Rusty when he was a prosecutor.  He talked about him all the time.  I love Rusty Hardin for many reasons, but the main one is that he was so very kind to Gil and stayed in touch with him all the way to the end.  Rusty and Lyn had been the prosecutors on the Campbell murder case, which was later the subject of two books:  Daddy's Girl and Cold Kill.

As much as Gil taught me about investigations and the criminal justice system, he taught me far more about life.  In my early days, I tried to bond with him by discussing my impressive amount of knowledge of television procedural cop dramas like NYPD Blue.  He waved off that topic quickly, saying, "I don't watch shows like that.  I get enough sadness at work.  I like musicals."  And man, did he like musicals.  He was known to belt out show tunes in the office at random moments and the radio in our Crowne Vic never saw heard a song written past 1950 if he was driving.  He kept Disney collectibles and other souvenirs that had absolutely nothing to do with homicide and law enforcement.  His constant refrain was, "Do what makes you happy and if something stops making you happy, stop doing it."

Almost every interaction I watched him make, he led with a joke -- whether it be with a judge, a defense attorney, a witness or a suspect.  He operated under the philosophy that a joke was an icebreaker that was appropriate in any situation -- the cornier, the better.  I can't tell you how many times we went to a restaurant where he followed the waiter or waitress's greeting with, "I am Gil and this is Murray and we will be your customers today."  That's who he was.   As a police officer, he obviously had a gun, but I don't think I ever saw him carry it on more than a handful of occasions.  His happy demeanor got him so much further in life than a weapon ever would.

And the practical jokes.  Oh man.  If you learn nothing else from this post, learn to never engage with a Houston Police Officer in a practical joke war -- the more bathroom-oriented, the better.   I once tried to one-up Gil in a practical joke war and ended up riding in the passenger seat with the window locked in the down position during a monsoon.  The stories he told of the practical joke wars from his HPD Homicide days were nothing short of legendary.  Most of them not repeatable!

He became like a second father to me and we were inseparable.  I was never all that involved in college life at A&M because I had found the place where I wanted to be, working at the D.A.'s Office.  At one point, another academic intern made the comment, "You have to be the only senior at A&M whose best friend is retired."  I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Ed Ziegler, Gil and me at my A&M graduation

The strongest advice that Gil ever gave me would ultimately change my life plans completely.  He knew I wanted to be the Brazos County D.A. someday, but he was steadfast that, "first you have got to be a Harris County D.A."  That didn't mesh well with my plans to marry my high school sweetheart and settle down in B/CS, but he was adamant.  He loved Houston.  The restaurants.  The sports.  Memorial Park. He loved everything about Houston and the people in the criminal justice system.  The cops were the best.  The judges were the best.  The defense attorneys were the best.  But most importantly, the prosecutors were the best.  

"You can always come back to Bryan," he said.  "But first, you have to be a Harris County prosecutor."

So I did, and everything he said was 100% accurate.  I love this city like he did.  I love the criminal justice system like he did.  I loved being a prosecutor and I loved how proud he was of me for being one.  

My favorite moment of my prosecutorial career would bring things full circle with Gil's career.  Of all the people he spoke of from his days in Houston, he spoke of his old Homicide partner, Sgt. Paul Motard, the most.  He wanted to introduce me to him, and after all of the stories I had heard about Motard, I wanted to meet him, too.  But running into Motard during all of the trips that Gil and I made to Houston just never seemed to happen.  Every time we came to town, Motard was either busy at a scene, testifying, or on vacation.  I started to think he was a figment of Gil's imagination.

I joined the Harris County D.A.'s Office in 1999. In 2003 or 2004, I was assigned to the 185th District Court.  As I was familiarizing myself with the files, I realized that the first three murder cases that I had set for trial were with Motard and his partner C.P. "Abbey" Abbondandolo (which I still can't spell without double-checking 20 years later).  I felt as excited as a kid who just got his driver's license.  Gil was excited too, and those guys were freaking amazing to work with.  I was honored to get to work with them and I'm even more honored to call them my friends.  When Motard retired, Gil came to town for the celebration, and we took this picture together.  Words can't begin to describe how much I love this picture from that day.

When I was a prosecutor, I didn't travel to Bryan that often, but when I did, I would go see him, and we talked on the phone quite a bit.  He would come to visit Houston on occasion, and he was always intently interested in what was going on in my life.  Even years after I had left Brazos County, I still called and involved him in all of the milestones of my life.  He knew my family.  He knew all my wives.  He knew my kids.  He was my family.

And, God bless him, the man never changed.

A couple of years ago, I got a phone call from him one December.  I answered it and he immediately asked me if I was okay.

"Yeah," I said, surprised by his question.  "Why wouldn't I be?"

"I just got this Christmas card and some fat guy is standing in there with your family.  I was wondering what they did with you."

I could fill a book with stories about Gilbert and the lessons I learned from him.  From learning how NOT to become your job.  To loyalty to friends and co-workers.  To humility.  Every once in a while, I'll reflect on what an awkward and shy kid I was when I walked into his office in April of 1994.  I doubt anyone who knows me now would recognize who I was back then.  I'm not sure that I do.  

I'm still a few years away from being the age that Gil was when I first met him.  I've definitely had some adventures down the path he persistently urged me to take.  It is no exaggeration to say I wouldn't be where I am or who I am without him.  I wouldn't trade that for the world.

I've had many amazing friends and co-workers in my lifetime and I count my blessings for that.  

But there was only one Gil Schultz.

When his health began to fail him a few years ago, I told him countless times how much I loved him and what an unequaled and wonderful influence he was on my life.  I don't think I ever was able to express it adequately enough.  I'm glad he isn't suffering anymore.  

I will miss him with all of my heart.

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