Anyone listening to Alice Chandler talk about her life would probably think she tends to exaggerate. After all, how many Southern California women spent their youth hunting rattlesnakes and bobcats and riding horses?
How many go on to become cowgirls, riding instructors, dog breeders, airplane pilots, and horse trainers?
And how many can boast about being the first female deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department?
All that can’t be true.
But it’s all true, every bit of it, and there are documents and photographs to prove it.
Many of those items were beautifully displayed in a celebration of Chandler’s life held Aug. 28 at the Elks Lodge in Santa Ana.
Chandler died on June 10, 2023, at the convalescent home in Corona where she’d been living for several years. She was nine days shy of her 95th birthday.
Recently retired Garden Grove Police Officer Katherine Anderson, who befriended Chandler in her later years along with several other women in Orange County law enforcement, was one of the main organizers of the memorial. About 30 of Chandler’s friends, many of whom work in law enforcement, were in attendance.
Anderson recalled first learning about Chandler from a 2016 article appearing in Behind the Badge, titled “Orange County’s first female deputy is taking visitors.”
The story mentioned that Chandler was living in a convalescent home but got few visitors and has no family.
“And I had to read it again, because I’m like, wait a minute, she’s still alive,” Anderson said. “The first female deputy is still alive? How can I get in touch with this woman? She’s taking visitors. Can I go see her right now?”
Anderson called Chandler and the two became instant best friends. The motor officer rounded up other women in law enforcement and they all became Chandler’s “children” and suddenly OCSD’s first female deputy went from having no visitors to having seven or eight visitors at a time. They took their “mom” out to lunch and took her shopping.
“And we became so close with her,” Anderson said. “We took her in, and she took us in, it was a mutual love like nothing you had ever seen. You would have thought we were all related. Like every time we traveled, it was just one giant happy family.”
When Chandler told Anderson she hadn’t celebrated a birthday in several years, Anderson organized what turned into a memorable party for everyone.
Ray Grimes, founder and co-director of the Orange County Sheriff’s Museum & Education Center, had retrieved Chandler’s badge, gun, and department ID, and brought the items to the party, which was held at a Mexican restaurant in Orange. The items are now in the Orange County Sheriff’s Museum.
After lunch, Chandler rode shotgun in an OCSD 1962 Chrysler police cruiser, leading a convoy about a mile south along Chapman Avenue to North Chandler Ranch Road, a street named for the ranch where Chandler lived with her mother. Chandler had heard the street existed but was seeing it for the first time.
“And I love you guys and you are my family … my real family,” Chandler said during the party. “I’ve never had such a special birthday. Look at all the special people that are here.”
Chandler had just turned 21 when she was invited to interview with then-Sheriff James Musick because of her reputation as a fine horsewoman. After an hour-long conversation, Musick handed her a badge and told her mother to go buy her a Smith & Wesson handgun.
Chandler’s job was to keep trespassers away from Peter’s Lake, a popular duck hunting and fishing spot that also happened to be James Irvine’s private property.
“I talked to Alice every few weeks on the phone,” said Grimes, who spoke at the celebration of life. “We would talk for about an hour and towards the end, she was every bit as sharp as she was the first time I met her. She had an amazing memory for detail. I would sit there and take down notes on things I never heard before about her life. She knew dates, times, people, whatever, she knew it all. So, she was pretty phenomenal.”
Another speaker at the celebration was Garden Grove PD dispatcher Nicole Sharrow, who was among the group of women who visited Chandler.
“Every time that we had a visit, she always had a new story to tell us,” Sharrow said. “She called us her kids and says that God had blessed her by bringing us into her life. But really, we were the ones who were blessed to know her. I know this isn’t easy for Kathy or myself, but it’s truly a testament as to what a beautiful soul she was. And if she were here, she would be smiling from ear to ear and let us see how much she was loved.”