Capt. Myra Pearrell recently retired from the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office, where she worked for nearly 25 years. Seated here in a prayer room at Gateway Community Church in Newton County where her husband, John Pearrell has served as pastor since 1991, she displays her badge and gun that she received as a retirement gift from the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office. (Staff photo: Aimee Jones)
For many years, Myra Pearrell lived two lives – lives that may at first glance not have much in common, but, for her, made sense.
For nearly 25 years, Pearrell worked in the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office — serving in the jail, working patrol, coordinating emergency responses and responding to public requests for information. Then she would come home, take off her badge, and assume her role as a pastor’s wife to a growing Baptist church in Newton County.
Capt. Pearrell removed her badge and unholstered her gun for the last time on Feb. 28 when she retired from the Sheriff’s Office. While she can now devote her time fully to her church and her family, Pearrell always viewed her career in law enforcement as a ministry itself.
Pearrell started working for the RCSO in 1990 as a secretary for then-Sheriff Guy Norman. A few years later, she was offered a position in an Atlanta law firm. It didn’t take long before she realized her calling was with the Sheriff’s Office. She said she called Sheriff Norman and asked if there was still a position available. He told her he had filled his administrative position, but she could take a job in the Rockdale County Jail. Pearrell took it.
“I always had the sense that I was doing something very important – I was helping to keep the community safe. To quote Scripture, I was like the watchman on the wall,” Pearrell said, referencing a passage in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. “That was always in front of me. I would always think about that, even later when I had administrative duties. I wanted to feel that I was doing something to keep people safe.
After serving in the jail for a several months, Pearrell became a certified peace officer and was assigned to patrol in 1994.
A few years earlier, in 1991, Pearrell’s husband, John, was called as pastor of Gateway Community Church located on Brown Bridge Road in Newton County.
Working 12-hour shifts and weekend duties, Pearrell was unable to be at church or Bible studies on a regular basis.
“People in our congregation were very understanding and so supportive,” she said.
Pearrell said during her years on the road, she witnessed many difficult circumstances.
“There were a lot of problems that you come up against that you wonder if there is a solution,” she said.
One case in particular stands out to her as one of the most emotionally challenging. She said she was the first on the scene of a teenager who attempted suicide.
“It was very difficult because of that overwhelming sadness and sorrow he saw in his life,” Pearrell said, adding the boy did survive and she felt confident he received the help he needed.
On the other hand, she recalled one of the most satisfying calls she worked.
“I pulled a guy over on a routine traffic stop, and when you do that, you run checks on the driver,” she said. “It turned out he had an active kidnapping warrant out of another jurisdiction. I took him into custody and he was transported back to that jurisdiction where he stood trial.”
Throughout her career, Pearrell said she never had to fire her weapon, although she did have to draw it and display it at times.
Even with that resolve, Pearrell could never shake her disdain for snakes.
“Every time I would get an animal call, I would pray there was no snake,” she said laughing.
Pearrell took some time away from the Sheriff’s Office and served as the victim witness coordinator with the Rockdale County District Attorney’s Office. She then came back to the RCSO in 1998 and served as public information officer and then in 2004 was assigned as the county’s deputy emergency management director under then-Sheriff Jeff Wigington.
One of her most high-profile assignments as public information officer came in 1999 with the Heritage High School shooting. She said she was always mindful of what she called the “delicate line between providing what the public needs to know and protecting what needs to be protected.”
Then in 2004, Pearrell helped coordinate the county’s response to the BioLab fire that shut down much of Conyers.
A few years later, in 2009, Pearrell helped head up the emergency operation center just prior to the flood in 2009, which was later declared a federal disaster. The assignment required her to coordinate not only with the local first responders such as Emergency 911, Rockdale Fire and Rescue and utilities companies, but also with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and other agencies.
Her “last hurrah,” as she called it, were the back-to-back ice storms in January.
“Myra is very smart and did an excellent job,” said Wigington, who served as sheriff from 1997 to 2008. “She was an important part of my administration and I appreciate everything she did and she will be sorely missed.
With all these responsibilities, Pearrell said she often felt she didn’t carry her load when it came to her other role as a pastor’s wife.
“I don’t feel I always did a good job of balancing,” said Pearrell, adding that she wanted the people at Gateway Community Church to know how much she valued them.
“There was a time when I tried to do everything myself. I’m just not big enough for that. The more I realize that, the better off I am. The more I let other people serve, the better off they are too. … It’s a wonderful way for people to serve together and helps people grow together as a community.”
Now that Pearrell is retired from the Sheriff’s Office, she can focus on accomplishing some long-held goals, such as helping her husband write and edit some books and his doctoral dissertation.
Pearrell, a native of Alabama, moved to northwest Indiana as a girl. She studied theology at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where she met John. After serving in the ministry in Pennsylvania, they moved to Georgia in 1983. Their son, Colin, is a critical care nurse in Atlanta, and in June, she and John will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
During a retirement party held Friday at the Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Eric Levett presented Pearrell with her gun and badge and thanked her for her service.
“We will truly miss you,” he said. “You were – you are – still a great asset to the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office.”
Pearrell said she was grateful for her time at the Sheriff’s Office.
“I have always cared about the badge. The badge and oath of service has always meant a lot to me,” she said. “It has been an honor, a pleasure and a joy to serve here. Even though there is an exciting future ahead of me, leaving you all made the decision difficult for me.”