WATONGA — Margarett Parman's hands were on the wheel of the white Ford pickup. Her eyes were on the road as she drove south on U.S. 281 toward Geary, emergency lights on and sirens blaring. Her mind was on the safety of all involved and what she should do next.
Parman, 70, was sworn in as the Blaine County sheriff on the morning of Jan. 2. Slightly more than 24 hours later, here she was responding to a possible hostage situation close to the community of Geary. With the exception of four years, she's worked for the Blaine County Sheriff's Department in some capacity since 1977. But in November, she was elected sheriff.
This wasn't exactly easing into the role. However, as she drove, she never doubted the decision to have run for sheriff in 2012.
“Your heart beats a little faster going down there, I will say that, but did I think, ‘Why did I do this?' she said. “No, it didn't enter my mind. First of all, I prayed for the protection of the officers' safety in getting there and at the scene. I was also thinking, ‘What do I need to do next? Do we need call the SWAT team?'”
As it turned out, there was no hostage situation. Parman said the reporting party, who called from another city, and the individual at the scene who was possibly being held hostage, likely were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Parman said they worked to get help for the individuals.
The sheriff's heartbeat soon returned to a normal pace.
But Parman, who in recent years served as an undersheriff for now-retired Sheriff Rick Ainsworth, knew there would be days like that.
She knows from experience that any situation could come up at any time of the day or night.
“This is a 24/7 job,” she said. “I knew that.”
Those entering the front door of her office building, on the east side of the Blaine County Courthouse, will see photos of some former sheriffs, including A.S. Bridgford in the early 1900s.
While Parman is not the first female sheriff in the state, she is currently the only woman serving in that role, according to the Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association. That's one of the few things not on her mind, she said.
“Gender has nothing to do with it. Qualifications are what mattered,” she said. “I'm a public servant.”
And Parman's serving a public that in many cases she knows either casually or rather well.
“She knows everybody in the county, and everybody knows her,” Ainsworth said. “She's a wealth of information and was truly a big help to me as an undersheriff in dealing with our normal day-to-day stuff and not-so-much day-to-day stuff.
“She's a good investigator, and the good thing is people will tell her anything. It works out well.”
Parman's office is in Watonga, the county seat, about 80 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. Watonga had a population of about 5,100 in 2010, and Blaine County 11,943.
Through the years, the county's sources of income have included farming and ranching; oil and gas, and gypsum, among other businesses.
In the 2010 census, the county population was down because some jobs were lost in areas, including at a private prison to the north of Watonga.
But the people of the area move forward. Parman has seen that since she moved to the county in the nation's bicentennial year, living first in Greenfield before moving to Watonga.
She has worshipped next to them at the First Baptist Church in Watonga. She's been involved in the annual Watonga Cheese Festival in October. As a cancer survivor, she's also been involved with the Relay for Life. She's sat with county residents at games when her late son, Jack, played football, basketball and baseball at Greenfield High School before it closed.
Jack also was involved in FFA at Greenfield before graduating in the early 1980s. And she went with her daughter, Kristi, to 4H and FFA activities until Kristi graduated from Watonga in the late 1980s.
On the west wall in Parman's office is a long “Land Ownership Blaine County Oklahoma” map. But she could probably recite the names of most without ever reading it.
Parman was asked if knowing so many people makes her role as sheriff easier or tougher. Her reply was quick: “Both.”
“Number one, you do what you have to do, but you can still have empathy with the people and their families,” Parman said.
She's seen some of her children's former schoolmates booked into the county jail. Some of them had been at her house when they were children.
“You always want to think the best, and you just don't think that when they get older they're going to be coming here, but it happens,” she said. “What they don't realize is that what they do doesn't just affect them; it hurts so many others.”
So Parman said that while she can have empathy, “you still have to do your job.”