FAIRBORN – They took bets on whether or not she would make it when she first started the job.
But Linda Williams made it, and on Thursday, June 2, she will hang up her headset for the final time after serving 30 years as a dispatcher for the Fairborn Police Department.
“I’m excited, but sad,” Williams said. “It’s bittersweet, but I would do it all over again. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working here.”
She dreads the finality of handing over her keys when her retirement becomes official, but she looks forward to having more time to dedicate to the things she enjoys.
Before starting at the police department, Williams was working at a sales-based job. She looked forward to the possibility of having a steady income after seeing the job opening in the newspaper. A year after testing for the dispatcher position, she received a call asking if she was still interested.
And over time, the position became more than a job.
“It really, truly has been a family,” Williams said. “In every family, you have good times and not-so-good times … The people [will be what I miss most].”
Ten years into her career at the Fairborn Police Department, her husband became ill. They had just built a home and worked out a lease-to-buy agreement for their other property when they found out of his condition. A few months later, the tenants who were on track to buy their other home suddenly moved out, leaving a mess behind.
“The guys from my department went to the house because [my husband] was sick and they completely went through the house,” Williams said. “They repainted everything, fixed it, replaced toilets and water heaters. It brought back faith. We are a family and we matter to each other.”
In her time, she has seen police chiefs come and go and watched police officials start their career and mature into the individuals they are today. Fairborn Police Chief Terry Barlow is the only police department official who has been at the department as long as she has, as she said he started the job nine months before she did.
When she described the chief, she wiped tears from her eyes.
“We grew up together here,” Williams said. “ … I saw him learn everything about this department. He made it a priority to know. He could come in, dispatch, run the jail … He will not ever ask anyone to do anything that he has not done himself … He’s not afraid of hard work and he’s been a friend through the years … and I respect him.”
She remembers training for the 911 system when it was initially implemented in the 1980s and being the only dispatcher and jailer on duty up until the 1990s. In her first few years, she remembers getting about a half-dozen gun calls per year. Now, she says, the call load has increased.
Her former co-worker, Peg Beall, described the dispatch center as “the room of unfinished stories and sentences” and Williams agrees. She said when someone calls in, their whole world has just changed.
“That hysteria comes over the phone,” Williams said. “You feel that, yet you have to set yourself apart from that. You have to say ‘OK, deep breath. I have to get the right people there.’ ”
But laughing, she feels, is a stress-reducer and has earned the nickname “giggles.”
“You can get mad and get angry, but if you can laugh … it gets you through the tough times,” Williams said. “There are times when it’s totally serious, but one of the things I’ve learned here is in a split second, lives can change and you have to roll with it.”
She rolled with it for 30 years.