By Kay Lynn Means Darling
Growing up in East Texas in the 70s may have had its own challenges. But, for Kay Lynn, it meant a chance for her to do something that many women had not done before. By 1975 at the age of 19, Kay Lynn found herself divorced and in need of a job. So, she got a job as a secretary at the local police station. By 1977, Kay Lynn became a reserve police officer although not even old enough to buy a gun. Her life became more interesting and was always more exciting. Then, in 1980, just when women’s rights were beginning to pop up, the Chief of Police offered Kay Lynn a chance of a lifetime. He asked if she would become a “patrolman.” Kay Lynn shared, “I didn’t have to think about it for very long and I said, ‘Sure.’” Basic Training took place at the Baytown Police Academy.
But, the fact that women’s rights were changing didn’t always help Kay Lynn as she tried to fit in with the other patrolmen. Kay Lynn said, “When I first started, one of the men said, ‘you have to walk behind us. You can’t walk with us because you don’t walk like a patrolman.’” He was joking, but Kay Lynn was thinking “hide and watch, Bubba.” Male citizens would come up to Kay Lynn and say things like, “Arrest me. Arrest me.” She also was required to wear a bullet-proof vest for safety, but it also gave an appearance of added strength. So many told Kay Lynn she looked like Lynda Carter — Wonder Woman. The kids loved her. She was a great role model to many of them.
“Back then we didn’t have the equalizers that they do now. You had to get up close and personal with people. Women do not have the upper body strength that men do so you had to learn to improvise during the more difficult times.”
“I had to prove myself. No doubt about it.” Kay Lynn said, during a “man with a gun” disturbance, I body slammed a man which got their attention. He ran right at me, I grabbed him and slammed him against a vehicle which held him until other officers arrived to assist in effecting the arrest.” Many evenings, Kay Lynn patrolled alone. It wasn’t unusual in a town that didn’t have many officers. However, there was usually someone from neighboring towns to back her up if need be.
And Kay Lynn knew how to talk to people. “Sometimes, you had to get down on their level to be understood.” Being raised by an Army drill sergeant came in handy there.” And she added, “They had a little more respect for the police back then.”
Kay Lynn had worked on patrol for four years when she was called to a beer joint disturbance. Kay Lynn said of the incident, “When we got there this guy started lunging at us. We were trying to get him to step outside, to calm down. He ran out the door and back down this little alley and we went after him. He was definitely causing a disturbance. It was my sergeant and me. We were in the alley trying to detain and handcuff him. There was a tussle involved. I ended up on the ground. The guy was on top of me and my sergeant was on top of him. The whole time this guy was trying to choke me to death he was screaming, ‘I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna kill you.’ And I really thought he was going to. The bad thing about it was there were probably 60 people in a circle all the way around us. It was dark and I remember my sergeant hollering, ‘Do not turn on any lights.’ While this guy was choking me, I learned later that the sergeant was hitting him in the head with a flashlight (D-Cell long flashlight) trying to get him to stop choking me. That‘s why my sergeant kept saying that. He knew that if the crowd saw blood, they would get upset. Sure enough, someone had to turn on the dang light and they saw the blood. My sergeant had put in a call for help while this was going on. I can remember the brother-in-law of this guy was right there in my face. I’m not sure what he was going to do. But then I looked over and I saw a pair of long white legs in cut-offs and a “.45” pointed at that guy’s head. Sure enough, the Calvary had arrived.
This guy was taken to jail and within a week, he was in prison. He was on parole. Six months later he got out of prison and did the same thing to another officer. I only regret that I didn’t sue him for his drug money because I would have been wealthy. He was on PCP and that’s why the whole time my sergeant was hitting him in the head with the flashlight, he never felt it.”
After this incident, it was said Kay Lynn became a little gun shy. It left her in a bad place. So, Kay Lynn went into support positions including Dispatch and Crime Scene Unit. She went in after drug raids, murders and other crimes to collect evidence including DNA and fingerprints. Kay Lynn added, “It wasn’t like on TV, we never could solve a crime in an hour.” Over the years there were many gruesome crime scenes including that of a 15-year-old boy who accidently shot himself with a rifle. Talking to others involved in the cases helped Kay Lynn get through some of the more difficult ones.
What Kay Lynn experienced has caused some personal PTSD. “For the longest time, I would not wear anything up close to my neck. I still only wear clothes that have scoop necks. I don’t wear turtlenecks.” She did finally seek counseling to help with this and other things most would never see in a lifetime.
Kay Lynn says that she was raised by the greatest generation who gave her values, a moral compass, strength and character. It helped her realize that everyone deserves to be treated well and that everyone has a story. And as Kay Lynn summed everything up, she said, “I never thought I’d live to see the world as it is today. I don’t know how I coped through it all – you just learn how to survive because it’s in your heart to want to help others.” She learned on the job how to survive. But, her mantra has become “Believe in yourself. You can do it; just put your mind to it.” “You have to be strong and maybe a little crazy, but the end result is worth it” she said. This also brings to mind a phrase Kay Lynn has repeated hundreds of times, “If we were all alike – life would be so dull.”
Kay Lynn Means Darling was born in a small town in southeast Texas where the townsfolk pretty much all knew one another. Kay Lynn’s most outstanding memories from childhood were: (1) the huge family get-togethers each Easter when relatives from all over the country would drive down for a huge barbecue that began after church services where all were wearing their “Easter best,” (for Kay Lynn that was a fancy dress, Easter bonnet, straw purse, and shoes to match). (2) being a participant in the live nativity scene each Christmas at church. It was always cold outside and each position (Wise Man, Joseph, Mary) required being completely still for 15 minutes, and when that segment was up the kids would run to the Reception Hall to get a cup of hot chocolate that would scald their tongues, but was so good. Good fellowship and good times.
Kay Lynn was on the quiet side, but still loved to joke and smile and laugh. She recalls a pleasant childhood with good friends that remain in her life to this day. From first through eighth grade, her schooling was on a standard level, but in high school, her counselor put her in the “advanced” classes. Mid-way through high school, Kay Lynn joined a group that would go to school half a day and work half a day. Ultimately, she became bored with school and left a few months shy of graduation in order to marry her sweetheart. That marriage last 1 1/2 years and the need for work led her to a secretarial position at the local police department.
Though not all with the same department, Kay Lynn worked approximately 30 years in law enforcement. She held many positions throughout her career, but was so happy to become the first female patrolman in her hometown which opened the door for many more women to follow as the years passed. Kay Lynn also became the department’s first and only Evidence Technician and set that office up for many to follow also. She worked the last 12 years in that position (as well as Telecommunications) and said this is where she found her heart. The work wasn’t easy, required seeing things most people would never encounter in their lifetime, but the teamwork it took to make a case was so unbelievably awesome.
At the time of her retirement, Kay Lynn married again and moved to the mountains of up-State New York where she and her husband remained for three or so years before they came back to Texas to settle in a small town in Deep East Texas where as a widow she lives to this day.