Marie Gard is a pioneer when it comes to Umatilla County law enforcement. “The Gard,” as she was affectionately known during her career with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, was the first woman hired as a correctional officer at the Umatilla County Jail. Her dedication to the sheriff’s office earned statewide recognition in January of 1998.
Gard began her law enforcement career in 1971 when she was hired as a dispatcher. She learned about the job from a Pendleton police detective who investigated after she was held up at gunpoint at the local Western Union office, where she was the manager. When the office closed, the detective encouraged Gard to apply with the sheriff’s office.
The diminutive Gard, who stands just under 5 feet tall, maintained a gentle demeanor until she was attacked by a female inmate she was booking into the jail. She then learned self-defense tactics from her male coworkers. Gard’s work ethic so impressed Sheriff Jim Carey she was offered a correctional officer position in 1981 — and she did her job so well Carey was encouraged to hire more women at the jail.
Though most of the male inmates at the Umatilla County Jail towered over and tried to intimidate her, Gard said she was never assaulted by any of them, avoiding physical altercations by relying on her “silver tongue” to get her out of tense situations. And Gard believes women are more likely to use intuition and communication skills during confrontations with inmates.
Sheriff John Trumbo rewarded Gard’s decades of service to the county by nominating her for a statewide award. In January of 1998, after 27 years with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Marie Gard was named Oregon Community Corrections’ 1997 Supervisor of the Year.
Gard remained with the sheriff’s office until her retirement in December 1998. She continued working as a part-time security guard at the Umatilla County Courthouse in Pendleton for another 17 years before retiring for good in February 2016 — a career spanning 45 years under nine different sherrifs.