July 5, 2006 > Curse of the gypsy
Curse of the gypsy
by Steve Warga
DECK: The life and times of Edwina Parsons, reporter, police officer, teacher, wife, mother and businesswoman.
When Hayward's very first female police officer made her very first arrest, a strange thing happened. While Officer Edwina Killoran was fingerprinting the con artist "fortune teller," a curse was placed on her. Sitting in her airy and sunny living room 50 years later, an obviously alive and vibrant Edie Parsons laughs at the memory. "Oh, I don't remember the words she used. I only recall that it seemed strange to be booking this woman and she suddenly puts a curse on me!"
That gypsy could no more cast spells than she could tell fortunes. Edie's career with Hayward PD spanned 26 years. After 18 of those years in plain clothes work, she donned a uniform and stripes as one of the state's first ever female Patrol Sergeants. In further defiance of that wayward curse, she went on to become one of the first female Lieutenants in California history before retiring from active duty in 1983.
Even then, she didn't really leave the work she grew to love. Following up on her other vocation, Edie became a full time lecturer in Criminal Justice at San Jose State University, teaching and mentoring numerous students, many of whom are doing police work to this day. Some curse that was!
It was not an easy road though for the girl whose Irish daddy died when she was seven. This cruel blow left the girl and her young mother struggling to survive in San Francisco's Mission District, far removed from any relatives. Edie recounts how her mom, Emily, had to apply for public support during a time when such a request was considered almost shameful. Tears of pride glimmer in deep blue eyes as Edie speaks of how her mom took a job scrubbing floors, enrolled in night school and became a registered nurse. Mom worked the night shift her entire career, providing a decent living for herself and her daughter. Eventually, she bought a home in Castro Valley and even left a modest estate when she passed away at 77 years of age.
A bright and precocious young Edie found a home away from home in the local library where the staff adopted her during the hours mom was sleeping and working. Upon hearing a suggestion to read everything in the library from A to Z, Edie actually did it, opening the entire world to her eagerly curious mind. These studies would give birth to a dream she carried through high school at the Immaculate Conception Academy for Girls, run by the Dominican Sisters.
She dreamed of becoming a journalist and war correspondent. Her role model was Bay Area product, Marguerite Higgins, who covered three major wars and became the first female war correspondent to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1951. Higgins' determination, courage and style fired Edie's imagination. She saw herself dashing from machine gun fire to fox hole, dodging bullets and crafting stunning prose for the readers at home. She would never quite make the war scene in her career, but demonstrated, early on, a talent for writing. In 7th grade, she entered a statewide writing competition and won. Her prize was to do a live radio broadcast with the author who commissioned the contest.
With these early inspirations, Edie set about turning her dream into reality by securing a degree in Journalism from San Jose State University. After graduation, opportunity knocked at the Hayward Daily Review, but it didn't go where the young grad had hoped. "I got all the female stuff," she recalled, "teens, food and society pieces. Oh I'd get a car wreck every so often, but not much." Finally, though, this gender bias paid off. A notice from the Hayward Police Department landed on her desk.
"It was a piece about the department looking for their first female officer." Edie researched the issue and wrote a short "filler" for the paper. It was just another woman's story until Edie found out what the police job paid. "The starting salary was $100 more a month than I was making at the paper. To a girl who watched her mom struggle during the Depression, that was a lot of money! I put in an application and got the job."
It was the start of a long, fine relationship. Though not exactly a war zone, police work certainly carried some risk of harm. Sharp wits and constant vigilance were absolute necessities. Edie felt as though she'd been born for the job and she loved it.
As the only female on the force, she was a natural for plain clothes police work. "We didn't wear wires or anything like that, back then. I'd just walk in on someone like that gypsy and make the collar. Criminals did not expect a woman to carry a badge." Looking at a glossy photo of herself next to an unmarked police car, Edie wryly notes that she even had to hang a flashing light from the mirror to make a bust! With or without a light, there's no denying she struck a dashing figure in those days. Her effectiveness combined with her maiden name soon earned her the nickname, "Killer."
"Oh I had a lot of fun! You'd be surprised how many of those guys would just confess to me. I rarely had to appear in court. I taught myself to use my wits to make up for being a woman. I couldn't out-muscle most men, so I learned to handle them verbally. And I became very good at interrogations."
Edie insists that she encountered almost no discrimination from her male colleagues. "I heard about the difficulties with women on other forces, but I never ran into any of that in Hayward. We really were like a big family and we looked out for each other. Even when I became a Patrol Sergeant in uniform, I didn't have any trouble being female. It wasn't something I thought about much. One day at a time is kind of my motto. I simply went about doing my job to the best of my ability and didn't worry about anything else."
With her mother's genes driving her, Edie accomplished far more than a distinguished career as a cop. She became involved in lecturing on criminal justice related topics at various local colleges. She also managed to earn a master's degree in Public Administration from Cal State Hayward (now called Cal State East Bay). It was only natural for her to move into full time teaching after retiring from the force, as this allowed her to stay in touch with the work she loved. Teaching also provided ample opportunity to mentor aspiring cops, mostly young women, but not exclusively so.
"I've never forgotten the many people who helped me along the way," she says. "Every step of my life, it seemed like someone was there to teach and guide me. It means a great deal to me that I try to help others too."
So far, two careers haven't been enough. Edie and her devoted husband, Fred Parsons, currently own and manage a string of Tri-City properties. With her lifelong penchant for achievement, Edie finds herself a role model to business women too, especially through her work with the Fremont Chamber of Commerce and the Fremont Sunrise Rotary.
For all her accomplishments and mentoring, Edie is not entirely comfortable with labels, like "role model" or "pioneer."
"I just do what interests me. But I don't think that's anything special. I live my life one day at a time looking at each day as a reward in itself." What a fine way to beat a gypsy curse!