Trailblazing female police officer Kay Pickett dies in Athens

State Patrol photo/ The first four female troopers shown with Col. Herman Cofer were from left, Francis Bennett, Kay Pickett, Mary Nell Arrington, and Ira Nell Koran.

Kay Pickett, a trailblazer for women in local law enforcement, died Wednesday at age 70.

 

In the 1970s, she was the first female patrol officer for the University of Georgia Police Department, moving from there to become the first female patrol officer for the Clarke County Police Department and eventually in 1978 becoming one of the first four women hired as troopers for the Georgia State Patrol.

“She wore badge number 44,” recalled retired police officer Bill Strickland, who knew Pickett well when they worked for the former Clarke County Police Department.

“She was tough and you always could depend on her for backup or support,” Strickland said. “She was a good person.”

Pickett, who was residing in Madison County, died at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center from complications caused by pneumonia.

Family members said she also had cancer, but was dealing well with those treatments.

Pickett left the UGA police to join the county police, where she worked for former chiefs Kent Lawrence and Tate Brown and alongside former chief Ronald Chandler.

“She was a strong-minded person and a good officer in a number of different ways,” Lawrence said. “She could put (suspects) in handcuffs and lock them up, there’s no doubt about it.”

Chandler said Pickett opened the door for other women to enter law enforcement in the Athens area.

“It’s common today, but back then in those days it was a rarity for a woman to be in a police department,” Chandler said. “She was a strong-willed person and could hold her own.

“It didn’t matter if she was dealing with a man or woman.”

Diane Carlton Merola, who was among the first female police officers in Gainesville, moved to Athens in the mid-1970s and befriended Pickett. Merola was an officer for the former Athens Police Department.

“She was an imposing figure,” Merola said. “Whether it’s law enforcement, firefighting or military service, the new person has to go through a time of proving themselves. That was especially true of women in those days.

“It was difficult to balance between being true to yourself and being one of the guys.”

Merola said she was impressed by how Pickett dealt with “the common man.”

“She was a fair and understanding person, but she also had a great sense of humor,” Merola said.

In an interview with the Athens-Banner-Herald nearly 10 years ago, Pickett said, “I lack 10 hours in having a degree in criminology, but I’ve got 5,000 hours in specialized training.

“I’m a driving instructor and I can fill in for a firearm’s instructor.”

Pickett’s career with the State Patrol ended with retirement in 1995, when she suffered a severe shoulder injury while attempting to arrest a drunk man during an event in Atlanta.

The shoulder was permanently damaged resulting in an inability to physically do her work, she said.

During the newspaper interview, Pickett recalled meeting a senior trooper in Atlanta who decried her efforts to join GSP.

“He looked at me and said, ‘There will never be a woman on the State Patrol,’” Pickett recalled.

But that same year, she and three other women were patrolling the highways as troopers.

A memorial service will be held for Pickett at 3 p.m. Sunday at Word of Life Congregational Holiness Church, 2nd Avenue, Colbert, with Bridges Funeral Home handling arrangements.

 

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