Pam Tucker didn't always know what she wanted to be.
In school, she only knew she didn't want to follow the traditional route of marriage and children. She wanted a career.
And that's exactly what she found 25 years ago.
On March 1, 1978, at age 22, Tucker became half of a two-person operation in Richmond County called Civil Defense.
"Everything was nuclear war planning at that time," said Tucker, now the Emergency Services Director in Columbia County - and one of the most-respected emergency planners in Georgia. "We didn't do natural disasters or anything else. It was all nuclear war. It was kind of intimidating.
Pam Tucker is one of the state's most-respected emergency planners.
"It seemed a monumental task, but I decided to take on one thing at a time, one person at a time, one agency at a time, just one step at a time."
When former President Carter founded the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979, Civil Defense became Emergency Management and the focus of Tucker's work turned toward disaster mitigation and relief.
Tucker took on director duties at Emergency Management near the time the Union Carbide methyl isocyanate leak killed 3,800 and injured thousands more in Bhopal, India, in 1984.
That tragedy ushered in a new phase of her career.
"The chemical industries began coming to us after that tragedy," Tucker said. "It really shook them up. Dick Westbrook of Columbia Nitrogen called me up and requested a lunch meeting. He invited me to look at the plant, and it was my first step into an industry that would consume most of my time. That was the genesis of HAZMAT.
"We began developing response plans and evacuation plans for these factories. It took a long, long time of getting to the point where we finally had a premium HAZMAT team. We were getting so proficient that we were getting recognized statewide."
After 21 years of building a department from scratch in Richmond County, Tucker took over the reins of Columbia County's Emergency Services Division in April 1999.
Under that flag, Tucker supervises animal control, senior center, public transit, complaint lines, EMS contracts, forestry and health departments and more. But her first priority is emergency services.
"I'm very happy where I am and with what I do," she said. "This is the front line. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you can make a difference.
"I have made a program that was unknown in this area into something that people now feel is significant in their lives, and I'm proud of that. I treat everyday that I come to work as if it's the first day. Everything I've accomplished in the past means nothing if I don't do my job today or tomorrow."
Despite her successes, Tucker has dealt with her share of criticisms over the years, such as those that question her qualifications because she never went to college.
"I thought it was a nonfactor, because I know my skills," she said. "I know my writing abilities and my speaking abilities and everything needed to develop plans. Let's face it, there are EMA directors all over the state that have degrees that are copying my materials to use in their counties. When you know that, you're not going to let a petty jealousy bother you."
Through it all, Tucker says that she has always looked to her husband, Randy, and son, Andrew Smith, as her support base. She says that they've had to sacrifice much for the sake of her career, but they understand the importance of her work.
So, a lifetime spent protecting others has yielded few regrets.
"I regret the time that I've lost with my child," she said. "He's 17 now and grown. I didn't teach him how to tie his shoes. I didn't teach him how to ride a bike. A lot of the things that I would have enjoyed being a part of I've missed. We've never played in the snow together, because I've had to be at work. I've missed that, but I have to look at the balance of it. He's been fine and I've helped a lot of people in my career."
Regardless of her regrets, Tucker says she wouldn't change anything. She is what she has always wanted to be, even if she may not have always known it.
"When you're in high school you kind of have ideas of what you want to be," Tucker said. "Many would talk about wanting engagement rings. I would say that I want a career. Something that I would like. Something that would fit my skills. Trying to find a job that fit was the hard part. What I'm doing now fits me like a glove. It feels like destiny."
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