After 30 years, dispatcher says goodbye

She says that she’s done her time, and now she’s getting parole. However, after 30 years, it may not be easy for her, or for the law officers that she got to know over the years.

“I’ll miss the guys,” said Martha Woodruff. “I won’t miss the job so much, because it’s time for me to leave. I’m getting older and this isn’t an old person’s job. You’re on call for eight hours and your brain never gets a chance to rest. You get home at night and you’re mentally fatigued. You’re the lifeline for the guys, and I’m too old, my brain is about fried.”

Woodruff, 53, retired from the Batavia Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Tuesday morning after 30 years behind the desk as a dispatcher. Known to her coworkers for her hard work and dedication, she will be taking some time to let her brain rest up from 30 years of grueling effort to keep things working straight with the Batavia Post’s troopers.

“She’s the first dispatcher to retire from this post,” said Lt. Paul Hermes of the Batavia Post. “This post has been here since 1972. She’s been a good employee, and the troopers have always felt safe when she’s at the desk because they know she’s taking care of business and paying attention to what they’re doing. She’s the lifeline for the troopers on the road. She’s here for them, and it’s a difficult job. There have been a lot of changes over the years, and she’s adapted well to it. She’s been one of those employees that we hate to see her go, but we’re happy for her.”

In fact, Woodruff managed three firsts while on duty with the OSHP. Not only is she the first dispatcher to retire from that post, but she also was the first to dispatch at a governor’s conference, which was in 1988, and was the first to dispatch at the Ohio State Fair, which was in 2003. Woodruff was also one of the first women hired to the patrol when it began hiring women back in the 1970s.

“My brother was in the patrol,” said Woodruff. “I came out of the Marine Corps in 1976 and, when I came home, I was looking for a job. The patrol was just starting to hire females, and I went in to take a test to be a trooper. I passed everything but the eye exam. They were pretty strict, and my left eye was really bad. They suggested I be a dispatcher, and I thought I would until I could find something else. Now, 30 years later, I still haven’t found anything else.”

While making the switch was an experience, Woodruff said that it didn’t really seem like work when she started, and to be honest, still doesn’t most of the time.

“I’m not a secretary,” said Woodruff. “I have a degree in secretarial science and worked at some law firms. Doing the same thing over and over just isn’t me, but this is different, this is fun, and I was getting paid. When I started, I was making $4.14 an hour, and as a secretary I was making $2.10. The guys here are just like brothers, it’s like a family, and you have fun and get work done. It’s not every day you can just have fun, enjoy coming in and do different things every day.”

Woodruff said that the people she works with also made the job a blast, saying that it was almost like playing at times, even though there was always work to do. However, the job itself didn’t come without a price. Keeping up with technology and changes in the law were difficult, and the high demands on your schedule made raising a family difficult.

“Not being at home was hard, I raised two kids,” said Woodruff. “Not being a mom was hard, but my kids were raised here. They knew the troopers, it was like a family thing. They all had ‘uncles’ over the years.”

Much like a 911 dispatch, the OSHP dispatch handles calls from the public and from other law enforcement or rescue agencies. While a challenge in itself, the interaction with public sources also provides much of the comic relief that makes the job fun.

For instance, during the blizzard of 1977, Woodruff was working with law enforcement agencies to make sure that the elderly were stocked with food and water. One caller, she said, was upset that the police wouldn’t shop at the stores she always used because of her coupons. Another man called, said Woodruff, wanting to make a late-night run to the store, but needed help. According to Woodruff, the man needed new underwear for a job interview the following morning, but only had an old truck to drive that used lots of gas and burned oil. He wanted to know if he could make it to the store and back, and was relieved to find out that gas stations in Clermont County were open 24 hours a day.

“We were all going to write a book about the number one question that people ask,” said Woodruff. “Years ago, it was how many people can you get in the front seat of a pickup truck. When the seatbelt law came into effect, it took care of that.”