Berkshire County's first female state trooper Sheehan retires
LEE -- When the alarm clock rings at the Sheehan residence in Lenox Dale on Monday morning, it won't be for State Trooper Mary Sheehan.
After 33 years, she won't be reporting to work at the Massachusetts State Police barracks in Lee, where she became the county's first female state trooper.
Now, she'll have time to participate in more sprint marathons and other athletic events such as her recent 104-mile statewide bike ride to honor fallen officers. In fact, Sheehan, 53, is training for her first Boston Marathon this April.
"It's a great job, but I just felt in my heart that it was time to go," she said, though the work never became routine. "When you come in here, you never know what's going to happen. I just felt it was time to open up another chapter."
During a conversation with The Eagle on her last full day of work, Sheehan recalled how her trailblazing arrival presented some challenges, though not from her colleagues.
Coming into an all-male setting at the Lee barracks, she said, "I knew they would have to make a lot of adjustments because I was upsetting their routine. When I got here, everybody was gracious and I was accepted. They made me feel welcome."
"It was a nice group of guys here, though I was scared," the 5-foot-4 trooper acknowledged. "They were all big guys, over 5-foot-9. I was a young girl; I didn't really know to expect. But I was welcomed here, I stayed for 33 years, so something went right."
As she wrote out tickets, a few speeders mocked her. One wrote to the Lee Court clerk, suggesting that "I should be home doing dishes and mopping floors, something I would be more suited to do than handing out tickets," Sheehan said.
However, she added, "for the most part, people did accept me. Some of them thought it was really cool that there was a woman state trooper. But there was one case when somebody called up here and referred to me as a ‘broad.' That didn't go over well with the guy who answered the phone."
Her most original, amusing excuse from a speeder? "Her goat was constipated and she had to get home."
As for dangerous encounters, Sheehan recalled that in the old days, before cruisers had cages, prisoners sat in the front seat with troopers. "I had some unruly ones," she recalled.
"Anytime you go into an unknown situation, the domestic types, you try to have another police officer with you for safety reasons," she noted, "but you never know what you're walking into. So there's always an element of fear."
A native of Brockton who was raised in East Longmeadow, Sheehan graduated from the state police academy and was posted to Lee, her first encounter with the Berkshires.
A career in law enforcement seemed natural, she said, since her mother worked at the district courthouse in Springfield and her father was a parole officer. After passing the state police exam at the age of 19, "it just snowballed into a 33-year career," Sheehan said.
About a year into the job, working the midnight shift, she met her future husband, Lenox Police Officer Timothy Sheehan, through one of his fellow officers, Anthony Salvatore.
"Back then, when you worked midnights," she said, "everybody backed everyone else up, so you knew who the guys were. It was a close-knit midnight crew in the Berkshires."
Following her 1983 marriage, Sheehan switched to the day shift to help raise their family. The couple's son Dan, 27, lives in Lenox Dale and may pursue police work, while Michael, 25, is a Bostonian, and daughter Erin, 23, is a New Jersey resident.
Asked what it was like for the kids to be raised by police-officer parents, Sheehan responded: "They knew they couldn't get in trouble, because we would hear about it, one way or another. They behaved. They knew if they misbehaved, it would be addressed."
Since 1996, she has been the court officer for the state police, an administrative post that includes ferrying prisoners, evidence and paperwork to Southern Berkshire District Court.
Referring to Sheehan's still-youthful appearance, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Pieropan quipped: "I don't know where the magic tonic is, but I'd like to buy it."
"I think she was well-suited to be a court officer," he said. "She's diligent, compassionate. She'll be greatly missed because she was always a pleasure to speak with and to deal with."
Calling retirement "a very bittersweet moment," Sheehan said: "I'm going to miss the camaraderie around here, the whole job. Everybody I've met has been awesome, they're friends, not just colleagues. I have no regrets, it's just time to move on."
As for her husband, now the senior officer on the Lenox force: "He's supportive, it's an unknown for both of us, but he said he's going to let me test the waters before he retires."
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In her own words
Retiring State Trooper Mary Sheehan shared some observations about police work:
On pursuing a police career: "Follow your dream; if it's a dream of yours, go for it, listen to the officers' safety hints, you want to get home to your family at night, that's the bottom line. It's a great career, no two days are the same. You meet a lot of nice people -- other police officers, court personnel, people you stop on the street."
On her greatest challenges: "B and E's [breaking and entering cases] are tough to solve, especially in this area, because there are a lot of second homes. ... There has been a surge and a lot of has to do with drug addiction."
On suspects: "Not everybody you stop is a bad guy. They're just people that make mistakes. Or they're down on their luck through unfortunate circumstances. But you do get some that just aren't nice people."
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