There are now 10 women out of 108 officers on the Cleveland Heights Police Department. But back in 1975, there was just one.
Susan Jane Calihan, who died of pneumonia in early March, joined the force after graduating from John Carroll University. Being a police officer was originally just going to be a job, a way to earn money for law school.
“You think about a 22-year-old female coming into a police department, where at the time in 1975, was staffed by a lot of veteran policeman, older guys … anybody coming onto a police department, you’re going to be a little bit intimidated,” said Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson, who met her on his first day in 1978. “I just can’t imagine what she felt like coming on the job as the first female.”
But she stayed, and was promoted quickly, Robertson said, calling her “Sue.” She made sergeant in five years, lieutenant in nine, and in 1989, she was promoted to captain.
Robertson spoke at her funeral, which was Friday.
“The first time I met her was at my first roll call. I came out of the academy, and I was assigned to day traffic. She was in charge of handling 10 new guys,” he said on a phone interview. “She was very smart, very good common sense. She handled the job as well as any guy did, that’s for sure.”
Detective Diane Hoynes, who in 1978 was the third woman officer on the Cleveland Heights Police Department, said Calihan was a mentor and a friend.
“She was a fun-loving girl. She was a good girl,” Hoynes said. “We all go through tough times once in a while, and she was always there to listen, whether it was job-related or not."
Calihan, who grew up in Detroit, retired in 2001 and worked in Lyndhurst as a bailiff. But Hoynes said they still talked nearly every day.
“She was a big jokester, loved to tell jokes ... and we liked to play games. We played golf together … We’d go out after a shift and play golf and have a good time.
“She was well-respected, and if you were wrong you were wrong and she let you know it. She was a good supervisor. She expected you to know your job and do it well."
Calihan, who was 59 years old, is survived by her boyfriend, sister and a niece and nephew, Hoynes said.