PARIS – After 25 years of handling distress calls, directing first responders during crises and always, above all, staying calm, Judy Knight has announced she will retire May 31, saying she wants to do something different.
Knight, the director of the Oxford County Regional Communications Center, started as a dispatcher in 1981, and over the years has seen communications technology rapidly evolve as well as the number of 911 calls skyrocket, partly due to the increasing use of cell phones.
She says the job’s stresses, like staying on top of changing technology as well as dealing with daily emergencies, have a lot to do with her decision to retire.
“The stress is really intense,” she said. “I want to do something else while I still can.”
Jim Miclon, former lieutenant for the Oxford County Sheriff Office, will replace Knight on June 1.
Being a dispatcher is in some ways harder than being a first responder who arrives at chaotic scenes. “Here you don’t see what is happening, and your mind comes up with all sorts of things that might not be true,” Knight said.
She added, too, that she’s looking forward to being boss only of herself, rather than of the dozen dispatchers under her supervision. Over the years, she said the work ethic of young people has deteriorated, and in her one year as director and eight or so years prior as communications supervisor, she said she tried to instill responsibility in her crew.
Knight grew up in Paris and after high school, went to beauty school in Lewiston. For some years, she worked part-time as a beautician, and she also helped out in a diner owned by her husband’s parents. After her divorce, she traveled to Montana for a year with her young children for some personal freedom.
When she returned, she worked three jobs and raised her three kids. The dispatch position opened up, she got it, and she’s stuck with it ever since.
As a dispatcher, there are lows and highs, she said. Knight recalled the worst moment in her career was when she tried to contact a Paris police officer to alert him to a fatal accident in which a car had collided with a logging truck.
After failing to reach him, she finally called another policeman. And very quickly she learned that the Paris officer was the driver who had died in the accident.
The best moment? Knight said she can’t think of one. “Many,” she said.
“Everybody here saves lives every day.”
In her next phase of life, she said she might return to beauty work, and she’ll continue doing carpentry and golfing, two of her hobbies.
Although the future is unknown, she doesn’t seem anxious about it. Perhaps it’s the years of dealing with the unexpected and the unpredictable.
“I’m excited for a change and looking forward to it,” she said. “Something will happen. If it’s meant to be, it will.”