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COVER STORY

The Fighting Lady And The Iron Maiden: McKenzie and Hill The story about a police experiment that went horribly right

Melinda Bryan (l), Helen Hill (r)

By Brandon Watson Pulse contributor

Melinda Bryan and Helen Cooper, now in their seventies, recall a time when they were subjects of a great experiment.”

C

HATTANOOGA’S FIRST FEMALE POLICE OFFICER WAS Patricia Underwood Williams. She was recruited to the CPD after graduating Knoxville College in 1971. Officer Williams would serve thirteen months in the youth crimes division of the CPD before resigning to work with the criminal rehabilitation system.

Yet, hot on her heels were two women who didn’t just walk the path Williams started—they bulldozed a four-lane highway for future generations of law enforcement officers. Melinda Bryan and Helen Cooper, now in their seventies, recall a time when they were subjects of a great experiment. THE FIGHTING LADY: MELINDA MCKENZIE (BRYAN) Melinda Bryan has a pleasant de-

6 • THE PULSE • AUGUST 15, 2019 • CHATTANOOGAPULSE.COM

meanor of any loving mother who enjoys Southern breezes and strong coffee. But there’s something keen to her awareness, an active observance of everything. It’s a supernatural aspect of being around people who have been there and done that. It’s not long until Melinda’s commanding presence changes her from motherly figure to a fierce mother wolf. “I was ten years old when I said I’d become a cop when I grew up; my mother wasn’t impressed,” Melinda says.

Melinda attributes much of her inspiration and encouragement to her father. Boyd M. McKenzie was at the Battle of Midway. He survived the bombing of the USS Yorktown in 1942. Lt. Cmdr. McKenzie helped members of the Yorktown escape and assisted with sealing off holes to delay her inevitable fate. The Yorktown stubbornly stayed afloat long after her fatal attack and became the stuff of legends. “He was a gentleman and a gentle soul.” Melinda tears up. “He passed in ‘76 but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a daddy’s girl. He always insisted that women should know everything a man should know,” she says. Boyd McKenzie would muster out of service to become a sworn deputy of Los Angeles before moving his family back to Blount County to take care of ailing relatives. Melinda would grow up to get married and divorced very young, eventually landing a job at the CPD as a records clerk late in ‘69. She built connections with the patrolmen and detectives, eventually taking advantage of free courses at Cleveland State. While earning an associate degree in criminal justice, she decided she was going to be in uniform and on the streets. “Several officers encouraged me. They seen something in me and supported me. When Helen and I started

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The Pulse 16.33 » August 15, 2019  

Chattanooga's Weekly Alternative

The Pulse 16.33 » August 15, 2019  

Chattanooga's Weekly Alternative