Podcast Transcript

Being First

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:10  
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we uncover what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, welcome back. And we have a real treat today. I love it when we can bring in a guest to the podcast and get their personal experience and stories to bring this content to life.

Marsha Clark  0:34  
Well, thank you, Wendi. And welcome back to all of our listeners. And I completely agree that it's always a treat to get to introduce our listeners to some of our very favorite people, the men and women who are living role models of our key messages in the lessons from our episodes.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:51  
So here we are and this episode is entitled "Being First" and so I'm guessing that that has something to do with our guest today.

Marsha Clark  1:00  
Well, I'm just tickled pink. It sure does. So our guest today is Gail Picha Hays. And without, you know, spoiling too much of her story right here, I want to say that she was the first female in a very male-dominated job back in the 70's at a job that was not only male-dominated, but also a very dangerous job. So we're going to hear about her lessons as she grew in her career and what it was like being a "first" and also what advice she has for women today.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:32  
Well, very cool. And now I'm definitely intrigued. So let's introduce Gail and dive right in here.

Marsha Clark  1:38  
All right, let's do it.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:40  
Well, we like to provide a little context for how our guests are introduced and connected to you, Marsha, so will you set that up for us?

Marsha Clark  1:48  
So Gail, as I look at your face on this screen I can't wipe the smile off my face. So Gail and I went to high school together at Galena Park High School just outside of Houston. So I met her in the 10th grade. And we were in our high school drill team together  (Jacketeers) and we've kept up with each other over these last 50 plus years with our reunions and Gail and I call ourselves the Galena Park Goddesses, our high school girls' group. And so we've got some really deep roots for sure and think the world of each other.

Gail Picha Hays  2:23  
Yes, we do. We absolutely do.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:26  
Well, Gail, welcome to the podcast. And it's not often that we get to dig into the Marsha history book with an actual witness. So even though the focus on this episode is on you today, I'd like to hear a little scoop on what you remember most about Marsha in high school.

Marsha Clark  2:45  
Careful, Gail. You know a lot.

Gail Picha Hays  2:47  
I'll clean it up the best I can. No, you know, looking back, when you're in high school, you don't know what you have at the time. You're too young to appreciate anything. But looking back, and then seeing where Marsha is now, this was meant to be. She was a leader in high school. We were like, so we were in the drill team together. And then our senior year, Marsha was the colonel of our drill team, and that's the leader. That's the top person and she led our drill team. You know, like I say, it doesn't surprise me that she is what she is now because this started a long, long time ago.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:37  
Well, Marsha, you've had a lifetime of working with some fascinating people. What is it about Gail's story that was so compelling to you that you wanted to include her in this podcast?

Marsha Clark  3:48  
Well you know, first of all, this is about authentic leadership, right, authentic path to powerful leadership. And when I think about what Gail has, how she's lived her life and what she's chosen to do with her life, it's pretty extraordinary. And you know, Gail, I think about it was us in Billy Don Hearns' truck going to Huntsville with you and Cindy, your sister Cindy, behind in the back and she goes, you know, "You ought to interview Gail because she's done a lot of things in her life". And I thought that is where this, you know, seed was born. And Gail and I are from a generation where quite honestly women, we were told we could be anything that we wanted to be, and the reality was that when you looked around, typically women were secretaries, nurses, teachers, and stay-at-home moms, and all of those are wonderful things. And yet when you think about Gail going into the police force, that was really different and I can't wait for her to tell you her story.

Gail Picha Hays  4:53  
Who woulda thought it?

Marsha Clark  4:55  
I know.  And so she's one of the most responsible and trustworthy people that I know. And Gail, you really are. And you are a great role model and a real tribute to the police women that you were part of the first wave of that. And they're a big part of our police force today.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  5:16  
So Gail, let's just cut to it and let you share what your "being first", which is the title of this episode, job was that was so unique and then we can go back into it and hear the story.

Gail Picha Hays  5:30  
Well, I started my career with the Pasadena Police Department. Now, just prior to that I was working for the Houston Police Department, but as a civilian. I just needed a job with benefits. And so I was working in personnel, you know, typing, answering phones and what have you. But our office was in the Academy building attached to that. And I would go in the gym and eat my little peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watch all the cadets work out. And I said, I can do that, you know, I know I can. And so during lunch, I started lifting weights and working out so I could pass the agility test. And Pasadena Police Department had a class coming up before the Houston Police Department did because that's where I thought I was going. So I applied, I passed the agility test. And this was, this would have been January of 1977 that I started the Police Academy. I can tell you the exact date was January 24, 1977. I don't know how remember that but I do.

And back then the Academy only lasted four months, the hardest four months of my life without a day off, because I was a single mom with two little kids. I had been divorced. And the guys, you know, some of them still lived at home with their parents, some were married, but they had a wife to take care of things, you know. And if they were single, they didn't have anything to take care of but yourself. But when I got done with my day of training, then I had to go home to two little ones and be mama and feed them and get them ready for bed. And you know, then I started on, its college level studies, it really is. And it was usually one o'clock in the morning before I would get to sleep. And then I would get up at five, so roughly four or five hours of sleep every night. And then when I got through with the Academy, I was with a training officer. We were supposed to do three, we were supposed to do six months of training riding with a senior officer. And you do two months on each shift. Well, there was one female on patrol at that time. There were only four in the whole department. Two were in detectives, one was in juvenile and one was on day shift. Well, so day shift was covered with the female. That left evenings and nights so I started on nights and then went to evenings. And I went right back to night shift and they said that's where you're needed.

Well, they really didn't know what to do with me. The sergeants called me in that first night that the guys that I was with broke out and they closed the door in the sargeant's office before we hit the street. And they said do you want a partner? We didn't have partners. The only time you had a partner was when you were with a training officer. And then you were by yourself. And I said, well is anyone else getting a partner? They said no. And I said then I don't want to partner. If I can't do it, I'm not going to do it. You know? So to say I was nervous, that's an understatement. I remember... Oh, first of all, they would not let me work a district where there was a bar because the alcohol and what have you like that, so I was restricted on certain districts that I couldn't work which is you know, it's okay. Then I remember, you know, this is over 40 years ago, I remember my very first traffic stop and I stopped a guy on a motorcycle. I don't know what he did, maybe ran a red light or something. So I was writing the ticket and running his you know, checking for warrants. And a police car, another unit drove by very slow. And then I'm still writing the ticket and then another unit drove by very slow and this happened three times and the guy asked me and goes, What's going on? I don't know. I said there's only me and one other car in this district and three of them came by. And then I realized they were just checking on me. And you know what? That didn't bother me one bit. I wasn't offended. It was, it was... it made me feel good.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  10:19  
So had you always wanted to go into law enforcement, Gail? Like, was this a dream of yours?

Gail Picha Hays  10:26  
No! I actually, when Marsha was giving the list, I actually pictured myself being a nurse, I really did. My grandmother was a nurse. And I'm just, Marsha knows me,  I'm just that kind of person, let me help you. And I couldn't afford going to nursing school. You know,  I couldn't afford it. And when you're in the Police Academy, they pay you. And you, I look back at Social Security printouts that they give you. My last year that I worked for the Houston Police Department I made $6,000 that year. Yeah, $6,000. My first year with the Pasadena Police Department, I doubled. I made $12,000. To me, that was a lot of money. But it ended up... no, it wasn't where I thought, what I thought I was going to do. But it ended up being me. It was me.

Marsha Clark  11:32  
Well, and I want to say something too for our listeners and the people who are watching this. This was a different time for women. I mean, when you think about there were four women total and, you know, you couldn't do this, and you know, they were watching out for you on that. It may sound strange for our listeners today. And yet, I appreciate what Gail's saying about somebody's looking out for you. I mean, you hear so much about I've got your back. And you know the importance of that in the dangerous positions that police men and women are put into. And so the idea of knowing that they were there to look out for you, and I'm sure they teased you and did all that kind of stuff. But then also just the sheer necessity of what she was going through. And, Gail, I know you have a story that kind of leads to that sheer necessity. And I think that's important. You've overcome a lot to get to that place. And so if you're willing to share some of that I'd love for our listeners to hear that.

Gail Picha Hays  12:36  
Well, there were so many things that you don't think about. One of the things that was the necessity was searching female prisoners. And guys can't do that. Well, if I was off duty, being the only female on the shift, the females would rotate, taking a week at a time being on call to be called in to search a female prisoner. So if you're on call, you couldn't leave town, you couldn't, you know, do much but be. And in my case with two little kids and it was just me, when they would call me at two, three o'clock in the morning to come in and search a female prisoner, then I had to take my little kids and  put them in the car, drive to the station, in their pajamas. And I would go in, it was a sally port and a drive thru, and I would drive my car in there that normally is for police cars. But I would drive it right there by the door. And I would go get the officer that was working the jail to go watch my kids so I can go in and search the prisoner. And they did, you know, they worked with me, I worked with them and you know, just things like that that was a necessity. Now I will say that were some of the older guys that they didn't think women should be out in the workforce...It's a, it's a back in the day type thing now. And then to be doing that was, you know, even well, it just...they had to get used to it and in that job, I had to prove myself. And that didn't bother me one bit. They were depending on me. They were depending on me for their life. And I did not... it didn't offend me one bit to have to prove myself.

Marsha Clark  14:39  
Yeah. And Gail, I'd love for our listeners, and again, going back to especially our younger listeners, and thinking about, you know, as a divorced woman that in and of itself was fairly unusual back in those days. And you know, there weren't all night daycare, babysitters, all those kinds of things. So you had to have some sort of support system. So when you think about your support system in addition to the policeman who's working the jail that night to come watch your kids, I mean, what did you do with all of that?

Gail Picha Hays  15:10  
Well, my parents were, you know, they were very supportive. And they helped me a lot. I ended up...I tell you what, God works in ways that we don't understand. But the house that I grew up in, in Galena Park, four houses down from my mom and dad, this house became available for rent. I rented that house. And there were plenty of times that my mom and dad helped me out. And a funny story, my dad, he got a scanner, you know, police scanner. And he listened to that all the time. I mean and I remember there were times that, you know, things would happen, and I'd be hollering for help, or whatever. And I'm thinking, Oh, I hope Daddy's not listening. I hope he's already asleep.

Marsha Clark  16:05  
But when I think about women who were first in those periods of time, we had to have a lot of support and people who believed in us because there were those who were willing to give us a shot and there were those who were just trying to prove every step of the way that we shouldn't be doing whatever it is that we were going to be doing. So when when you think about, I mean I think about the physical work that you had to do to be a police woman and how I mean everything from whether the uniforms, the hats,  the bulletproof vest, all those kinds of things, they weren't necessarily built for women. So talk about that a little bit.

Gail Picha Hays  16:47  
We've come a long way there, believe it or not. I talk to the female officers now and they go, "What?"  They didn't make...I wore a men's small. That's what they ordered for me. Marsha, I was small. Well I was 5'6", and I probably weighed 100, well after I got out of the Academy, with all the... I probably weighed 110 pounds, you know, and so I would have to roll up my sleeves. And, you know, they ordered a vest. Finally, they ordered a female vest with the little cups, you know, because I was just wearing what they had, and the vest that fit me was for a man, you know, but and believe it or not the belt that you wear that's got all the... it's called the Sam Brown, you put the holster on and all that kind of stuff, that big thing, there was called a Sally Brown that they invented, and the Sally Brown that now when I first went, they didn't have that, then they came in and I said I want one of those. They went out over the hips because the guys, you know, were... and I had little indentions, even little dark spots on my hip bones where it would just dig into me. So finally, you know, I ended up getting that. So it took a while, but that was okay. I wasn't there... my purpose wasn't to try to prove anything to me or anybody else. I realized what it did was pave the way for others. But I was there just to, I was fulfilling a calling at that point. I was doing a job that I felt like now I'm gonna get a little too. I was put there for a reason.

Marsha Clark  18:44  
Yes, you were. Yes, you were.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  18:46  
So Gail, were you nervous about being a female in such an male-dominated job? I mean, what kind of support did you have, if any, in the emotional side?

Gail Picha Hays  18:57  
Yeah. Like I said, in the very beginning, they didn't know. They hadn't worked with females before and even the citizens. One time they sent me out on a call. It was a little juvenile disturbance, neighborhood disturbance. Kids were... there was an older man, their ball would go in his yard, they would go in the yard. And there have been... anyway, he called in and, you know, get these kids out here. Back then if you called you got somebody out. So I knocked on the door. And he came to the door and he said, Can I help you? And I'm in full uniform. I said didn't you call the police? He said, Yeah, I called for a policeman. Uh, that would be me. And he said, I want a police man, and he was an older man. I'm not, I'm not... Honestly I'm not. I'm just telling you.

Marsha Clark  20:01  
Right!

Gail Picha Hays  20:01  
Not a problem. I got back in my car. I told the dispatcher now I said this man would like a male officer, he didn't want a police woman. And they said, that's clear. And they called him because you call in, and they say, "Look, she's the officer in your district, and you get what you get". And it wasn't. I mean, it was obviously if it had been a dangerous thing or something like that I would have called somebody, whatever it took. But you know, it was just a kid thing. And you know, it was just things like that. There's an incident at one time that I think back after Marsha asked me to join in and talking about the guys getting used to it, some of the older guys. I was working dispatch, in the beginning because we didn't have civilians doing this, the officers did dispatch, jail or whatever. There weren't civilians doing those jobs like they are now. And so I was answering the phones, it was two of us and one of the male officers, he was doing the dispatch and he was old school. And we were talking and he says, well, you know, he says about female officers. And I said well let's just talk about that for a minute. I said, if you have a job that you need done, and you've got, let's say, people working for you, and one is a male and one is a female, and you've got a ditch to dig or whatever takes strength. I said and your two workers, what if the guy's only like about 5'5" or 5'6" and weighed about 130, 140 pounds, and they send you this female and she's 5'11", six foot tall, she weighs about 200 pounds. I said, who do you think is gonna be able to do it? You know? And he didn't really have an answer for that. And I said, and let me ask you something else. I said if you're in trouble out there on the street, who do you want to come help you? I said or if you get in a shootout or whatever, you have something really bad, I said do you want Barney Fife or do you want Annie Oakley?

Marsha Clark  22:21  
Ha! I love it!

Gail Picha Hays  22:27  
You know that broke the ice. That broke the ice, we got to be friends. And I will say I was, I never,  he didn't... there wasn't any putting me down or anything like that. It was just he didn't know. It was a learning experience for everybody.

Marsha Clark  22:45  
So Gail, you can talk about kids, you know, throwing balls into grumpy old men's yards and all those kinds of things. But I also know that you got called in on whether it be some domestic violence cases or, you know, thinking about women who had been raped or molested and that those are such, I'll call them fragile, situations. Tell us a little bit about where you saw the role for a person like yourself in a way that made all the difference in the world.

Gail Picha Hays  23:21  
Well, I learned very quickly and we don't think about these things unless we're actually involved in it, but let's just take for instance, a sexual assault. Okay. One instance in particular happened very early on, I was still in the Police Academy. And I hadn't even graduated yet. I wasn't an officer yet. And at the end, right before you graduate, you ride with another officer, but you're just supposed to observe, you're not supposed to radio, you're not supposed to do anything. You're just supposed to observe, kind of gets you prepared. They gave us and of course, because I was a female riding with this officer so they gave us a aggravated sexual assault in an apartment complex. We got there and it was very obvious that it had occurred. You could tell there had been a little scuffle there, you know, some furniture moved around, what have you. And the officer, he was, thank goodness it was him because he said, can you tell me what happened? He had his little notepad and she goes, I'll talk to her, but I'm not talking to you. And he said, not a problem. He put his pad in his pocket. He stood on the porch, closed the door. And it was just you know, I'm thinking oh, man, you know, talk about getting thrown into the fire.

But you know what, there was a reason for that too, because she had just been assaulted by a male. And no matter what you say about it, no matter how you try to justify whatever, well, you know, male, female, whatever, if it had been my sister, I would want a female to be the first one that she talked to and make her comfortable. And it's not always that way. If I had been off duty, you know, if there's not a female on duty, male, it's way different. It's specialized, and you get what you need. And it's way different. Thank goodness for the victims, you know, that it is. And I could just go on and on about...one of the cases I had, now they've got sexual assault, actually, divisions within like the district attorney's and stuff like computers. That's what they do because that's a tough case to try. Somebody that is not, I'm not gonna say not everybody can do it, but it takes some expertise because you cannot try those cases like every other case. And they have those, they have those now, and I actually, again, got at work, there was a case it fell in my court and I ended up knowing the victim. And, you know, how does that happen? Yeah, I went to school with her. And I've told Marsha about this, I don't use names. But I stayed with her every step of the way, every step of the way. And I think that a horribly tragic thing to go through, it helped.

Marsha Clark  26:55  
I can only imagine, Gail. Your compassion and your sense of responsibility, and you are a helper, you are there for everybody. So I can imagine how critical that was at a time that was beyond compare.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  27:11  
So Gail, what do you think made you so successful as a police officer, and then later as an investigator, especially considering that you were operating as a "first", if you will, and often only in such a male-dominated world?

Gail Picha Hays  27:31  
You know, I've thought about that, because we've, you know, Marsha and I've talked about these things. And the only thing that I can come up with is this job is not for everybody. It is not, because it's not just earning a...it is a way of life. It really is. What made me I'm not saying I mean, better. What made me good at it I don't know. It's, you know, I don't know. It was in my heart. Like I said, it's a calling. The prosecutors, that's a calling because they can get out of law school and go out there and make way more money and do a lot less work because they've got file after file after file, you know, stacked up. And I don't know that I'm any different than anybody else, any better than anybody else, but it's that I can only call it, say that it's a calling that isn't for everyone. You know, it's just not. But what made me, what made me good at what I did, I don't know. It's in the heart. It's in my heart.

Marsha Clark  28:42  
Well, I want to say to Gail, you know, I think that one of the things that stands out so much for me about your story is you weren't there to make a statement about feminism or about, you know, women can do this and watch and learn. I mean, I think for so many women in this generation, and that were so many in the "first" you know, being a first that it was about we just wanted to take care of our families. We wanted to make a contribution. We were in situations where we had to fend for ourselves. And we did the best we could, and we if we had good support systems that was great, or we just tried to help each other in whatever way we could. And I look at it and yet, it's in retrospect or it's upon reflection, that we really begin to understand what was happening for us in that time because we weren't conscious about it. We were just trying to live a life and do the best that we could with that life that we had been given and when I think about you as a divorced mother of two baby girls and you know taking your babies in pajamas to the police station when you needed to and all of those things and I know that your your children are dear and they're precious, and they're wonderful adults today because of the role model that you were. So I mean, Gail, I appreciate your telling your story today. And I don't know, is there any advice that you would give to women? Because believe it or not, Gail, they're still women who are being first, right?

Gail Picha Hays  30:13  
You bet. And, you know, just to add to what you're saying, like I said, I'm not unique. You can do anything that you put your mind to. You try hard enough, you put the work into it that it takes, and it takes a lot of sacrifice to be able to do some of the jobs that women are doing now. It comes at great sacrifice, you know, you're missing some of the things with your children and you know, things like that. But I guess the one thing I could say of being the first anything or one of the first, don't give up. You just follow your heart. If you try something that didn't work out, then go to the next thing and find your niche, find what you're good at, because we've all got that unique characteristic, I'm going to call it that, that's waiting for you. And you can do it. You can do anything you put your heart at.

Marsha Clark  31:32  
Yeah, you know, I have to tell you with our Galena Park High School girls, it's fun when we get together, because Gail teaches us about what we have to do to be safe, Suzanne is our nurse in case anything goes wrong, you know, Karen Ann's our teacher she does this, Trudy, she's our accountant, Sherry's our banker, you know, Shelley's our retail person... I mean, we've got these women, (all walks of life) anyone you can think of. And when you think about the decades in which we lived, in which we came of age and adulthood and all of those kinds of things, it's a pretty amazing time and an amazing set of accomplishments that the women have. Gail, thank you so much for being with us today.

Gail Picha Hays  32:19  
Well, thank you, Marsha. It's always fun, but it always warms my heart when I'm with you.

Marsha Clark  32:26  
Yes, for sure, for sure.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  32:29  
Well, we usually wrap up our shows with a little bit of the key takeaways from the episode. And I'm going to share mine first and then, Marsha, you can share yours and, Gail, if you have one, we'd love to hear yours, too. So my takeaway from today is, you know, Marsha, you say this a lot and if it's not a magnet it should be, but something about the fact that we are standing on the shoulders of the women who came before us. And Gail obviously has some very strong shoulders because I feel like I'm standing on some some pretty big shoulders here.

Marsha Clark  33:01  
Well, I love that. And yes, you know, whether we knew we were standing strong and that our shoulders would be required I'm not sure, but we have, we are standing on those shoulders. And you know, Gail, again, I just say I admire and respect that you did hard things. You did really hard things, hard things physically, intellectually, emotionally, psychologically and dare I say spiritually, you know, and yet it was all in service to your family and to your daughters. And what you did, though, was to show the way to so many other women and be a model of "work hard and and keep trying". Don't give up. Keep trying.

Gail Picha Hays  33:51  
I believe that just thinking about this, you know, I'm talking about things that I did when we're talking about being the first of you know, over 40 years ago when I first started in '77. And then where we are today, talking about that, and 40 years from now women will be talking about us. Right? So it's always evolving and we're always helping to what's going to come in the future.

Marsha Clark  34:30  
That's right. I think about your daughters. I think about your granddaughters. Yeah. You're a great model for them, Gail. Love you.

Gail Picha Hays  34:38  
I love you too, Marsha.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  34:41  
Oh, well, thank you listeners and viewers for joining us today on our journey of authentic powerful leadership. And obviously, we have a prime example of a woman who has been "first" and, Marsha, I'm gonna let you close this one out.

Marsha Clark  34:56  
You know, again, thank you listeners. I'm so proud to share Gail's story with the world. And I hope you take it to heart and see possibilities in it for yourselves as well because as I said, there are still women who are being "first" or "only" or "one a few" or whatever that might be 40 years later from Gail's timing. And I thank you my dear friend, I love you my dear friend, and you know even as I think about Gail and myself, I also think about our Galena Park Goddesses. There's a whole story behind that! So yeah, we'll go there some other time. But it is about, and as I always close these sessions, it is about "Here's to women supporting women!" Thank you all.