Alice Chandler was 21 when she was invited to interview for a position as a deputy with then-Orange County Sheriff James A. Musick. She died on June 10 at age 94.
Her job would be to patrol by horseback to keep trespassers and poachers away from Peter’s Lake, a popular duck hunting and fishing spot situated on James Irvine’s private property.
Chandler had no law enforcement experience, but Musick was aware of her reputation as a fine horsewoman. An hour later, Musick handed Chandler a badge and told her mother to purchase a handgun for her daughter.
Alice’s mother purchased a 6-inch barrel S&W .32 caliber revolver for Alice, so she could perform her volunteer job as a deputy. And on that day in 1949, Chandler became the first female deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Chandler, whose diverse life experience also included stints as a cowgirl, riding instructor, dog breeder, airplane pilot, horse trainer, and model, died on June 10, 2023, at the convalescent home in Corona where she’d been living for several years. She was 94.
Chandler was the last survivor among her eight siblings. She never married and had no children, but at the time of her passing, Chandler had become the “adopted” mother to women in law enforcement throughout the county and had more “daughters” than anyone could imagine.
None were closer to Chandler than now-retired Garden Grove Police Officer Katherine Anderson, who, incidentally, was Garden Grove Police Department’s first female motorcycle officer. Anderson first learned about Chandler from a 2016 article in Behind the Badge about the former deputy.
When discovering Chandler had no family and was living in a convalescent home, Anderson rounded up a group of female law enforcement officers and paid Chandler a visit. From then on, Chandler never spent a birthday or holiday alone.
“Well, I don’t know if she adopted me or it was a mutual love,” Anderson said. “I love that woman. We considered each other family. She didn’t have anyone else.”
Anderson became Chandler’s main caregiver in recent years and had power of attorney over her affairs along with Jennifer Anaker, a retired law enforcement officer and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s first-ever motor officer. Anderson visited with Chandler often, ran errands for her, took her shopping, and planned birthdays and other celebrations.
In 2017, Chandler received her first-ever Mother’s Day call, and for her birthday that year, Anderson organized Chandler’s biggest birthday celebration ever – a large gathering of female officers and others at a Mexican restaurant in Orange. Everyone at the party got a taste of Chandler’s sharp wit when she acknowledged the female officers who were present.
“The Lord hasn’t given me everything I’ve wanted, but I’ve had things I didn’t expect,” Chandler said. “Look at this. It’s like having my own kids. And I didn’t have to diaper them and give them a bottle.”
There were a few surprises at that gathering as well.
Ray Grimes, founder and co-director of the Orange County Sheriff’s Museum & Education Center, showed Chandler her badge, gun, and department ID, which were to be displayed in the 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.
Chandler was also famously feisty and direct. She was headed to the beauty parlor one day when she saw a car illegally parked in a handicap spot and told the driver to move the vehicle.
When the driver responded with back-talk, she called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Patrol cars showed up and issued a citation but before they left, Chandler told the deputies that she could have just handled the matter herself, since she had her own badge and revolver.
“She was fierce before fierce was cool,” said retired Brea Police Officer Shannon Buckles, who was among the officers who visited Chandler on several occasions. “You couldn’t help but love Alice. She was just so endearing.”
After retiring and moving to Alabama and as Chandler’s health began declining, Anderson tried to convince Chandler to move to Alabama and live with her family. The setting would have been similar to the farm where Chandler grew up in Memphis, Tenn., Anderson said.
“She didn’t want to be a burden,” Anderson said. “I said ‘you’re the opposite of a burden.’”
Anderson is grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time with Chandler, especially in her final days.
She was not afraid of death, Anderson said. In fact, she was looking forward to meeting the Lord and reuniting with family members in heaven, including her younger brother, who was killed in a tragic accident at age 5, Anderson said.
She had specific plans for her arrival. She would give hugs in this order, Anderson said: God first, her mother second, and her little brother Monty third.
“I’m not afraid of this at all,’” she said.