Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Pauline Walker

September 24th, 2019 at 2:59PM
Faces Pauline Walker on phone in FS office.
At 91 Pauline is one of the most senior employees of the USDA Forest Service. (Forest Service photo)

Pauline Walker, also known as “Ms. Polly” by all who know her is kind and gentle--not unlike her Southern upbringing. Polly began working as a contractor for the Talladega National Forest, Shoal Creek Ranger District in 2010 and was hired as a full-time employee in 2018, just shy of her 90th birthday. Polly is the receptionist at the Shoal Creek Ranger District and has an incredible attitude dedicated to serving others.

Polly grew up as an only child of two hard-working farmers in Muscadine, Alabama, a quaint town of about 250 people in the eastern part of the state. Her parents always taught her strong values. They showed her how to work hard, instilled in her strong work ethic and made sure she followed the rules.

What was it like where you grew up?
I remember my parents never let me miss school. If the weather was bad and the bus couldn’t get to the farm to pick me up, I would stay with an aunt until the bus could pick me up, even if it was a week.

What was your first job?
My first job out of school was working at a café. I married my high school sweetheart, Willard, in 1944. Willard enlisted in the United States Army, and we moved to Arkansas for his basic training at Camp Joseph T. Robinson. I began working at a laundromat folding shirts and would see him on the weekends. Willard was then assigned for initial occupational clean-up after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Our faith saw us through the hard times while Willard was away at war.

After returning to Alabama and when Willard returned from the war, I went to work as a secretary for the plant controller at Moore Business Forms in Heflin, Alabama. I had worked there for 31 years when the plant closed in 1987. I then went to work at the Heflin Baptist Church as the secretary to the pastor, where I stayed for 21 years. I retired from the church in 2008.

How long were you married?
Willard and I enjoyed almost 65 years of marriage. He passed away in 2009. I became lonely and told my daughters I wanted to go back to work. I remember them asking me if I was sure. And I said, “I know I want to go back to work.” I have always been dedicated to serving others.

Pauline with her late husband and World War II Veteran, Willard Walker. (Walker family photos.)
Pauline with her late husband and World War II Veteran, Willard Walker. (Walker family photos.)

How did you end up working for the Forest Service?
I started on the Shoal Creek Ranger District as a contractor in October 2010 and worked as a contractor off and on until May 2018. The job I was working converted to a full-time position, so I applied using Willard’s veteran status. The paperwork was so old the HR representative had a hard time reading it! He called and told me what an honor it was to process paperwork for the widow of a World War II veteran.

I was awarded the position on June 25, 2018, just shy of my 90th birthday. I think I may have been the most senior “new employee” in the Forest Service.

What do you like about the job?
I love being able to greet people here on the district. I like to make sure they have what they need, so I take the time to listen to better assist them. I have met people from all over. It is such a good place to work. They respect me, and I respect them highly for all the work they do.

How has your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
I was taught to be dedicated in whatever job I had. Growing up, my teachers always encouraged me to do my best and to always treat everyone equally. I like to encourage our employees, especially our younger ones. I tell them to respect others and watch their language. I’m big on keeping rules. My personal rule is to be the same at all times and to treat others respectfully.

What do you like to do for fun in your free time?
I have a lot of friends that I worked with at Moore’s Business Forms that are in the nursing home now and I enjoy going to visit with them. Some of my friends there remember me and some don’t because of Alzheimer’s. I also enjoy helping others. Within a week, I would say I call and check-in with 50-75 people to see if they need anything; that’s what I do on Sundays after church.

Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.
I’m particularly proud of my family because they have done well in their jobs. I hope I have been inspirational to them and others.

How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I think they need to appreciate and obey the laws that keep our lands beautiful. There are so many facets of the Forest Service and I respect all that the employees do. All of the different departments work so hard to keep everything going.