Roanoke, Va.—It can be pretty tough, pretty lonely being the first. No one knows that better than Mary Grogan.
"Well it was kind of rough sometimes. I wasn't treated like I was supposed to be treated. They just didn't want no blacks up there. I think that was the whole thing," says Grogan.
Grogan was the first black female matron or deputy sheriff in Roanoke City in the early 70's. She spent the majority of her time guarding inmates. The rest of her time was spent fighting off the hatred some of her co-workers spewed. She recalls being the only one having to get permission to use the restroom.
"(From) my supervisor yea. (I'd have to) let him know that I'm going to the bathroom but the whites didn't have to do that," says Grogan.
There were also the times Grogan watched with her own eyes as other matrons would scrub some of the jail keys that the staff shared.
"I saw some of them washing the keys after I used them. I think they thought I didn't see them, but I seen them," says Grogan.
"I was only 12-years-old at the time and that made me really sad. She's a strong woman so it would've taken a toll on a lot of people but she took it pretty well," says Mark Grogan, Mary's son.
Mark say his mother kept going to work day after day and living the lessons she taught him. Treat people kindly, everyone is somebody. It's a lesson she also passed down to the other deputies she's later mentored including current Sheriff Octavia Johnson.
"With Ms. Mary it was that you did your job well and knew what you were doing and you were consistent," says Johnson.
Now 84, Grogan has seen things come full circle. At least one of the women who used to wash the keys after her, will now shake her hand.
"They see me now, run up to me and hug me," says Grogan.
And those once locked away, today outwardly express their appreciation, because while Grogan was firm she was fair.
"Even unto this day, matter of fact, last week I saw a person who had been an inmate back 30 years ago and she said how's Ms. Mary doing? She said well make sure you tell her I love her," says Mark Grogan.