I feared the worse when Jill Drake called me a few weeks ago about needing newspapers to pack her dishes for a move. Hoping it was a move across town, I asked. To my dismay, I learned she is joining her husband in retirement, and the couple is heading to the Hill Country in Kerrville.
Not that I blame her, but I certainly do hate to see her go. Probably not as much, however, as the Lamar County District Attorney’s Office, where she has worked since 2007 and served as District Attorney Gary Young’s first assistant since 2011.
Just a rookie to court reporting after long-time reporter Bill Hankins stepped down from an active role at the paper, my first trial just happened to be a murder with DNA evidence. I think Drake realized how green I was and did her best to fill me in on background information, just as she has done with every case I’ve covered in the years since.
During that trial, I saw our district attorney and his first assistant in action for the first time, and I realized right away what a team the two make in the courtroom. Drake comes across as “good cop’’ and Young as “bad cop” as Drake meticulously and somewhat quietly examines witnesses while her boss is loud and assertive.
Here’s what Young said about her:
“You would never see this in just talking to her, but Jill is a tenacious prosecutor when it comes to protecting children and victims of violent offenses. She and I have tried more cases of aggravated sexual assault than I care to remember. I am confident that she is one of the best prosecutors for child victim cases of anyone in the state, if not the country. I count myself blessed to sit with her in trial, although I drive her crazy most times because we have completely different preparation methods. She is organized, detailed and meticulous and, well, I am not.”
Young jokingly said if his first assistant had any deficiencies, it would be in her struggle to make math work in going from grams, to ounces, to pounds, and her inability to find some of his jokes funny.
I agree with Young that Lamar County will miss Drake not only for her time at the courthouse protecting the weak and vulnerable, but also the many volunteer hours she has given to Paris and Lamar County.
“While I have to replace the position, she cannot be replaced,” Young said.
Drake certainly has left her mark, whether it be her work with the Paris Community Theater, or her years serving as chairman of the Paris Main Street board, or her work with Trail de Paris.
Northeast Texas Trail Coalition President Earl Erickson praised Drake for her early and continuous help in promoting the Paris trail, noting she was instrumental in writing Safe Routes to School grants, which helped extend the trail to Justiss Elementary, T.G. Givens Elementary and Crockett Middle School.
Main Street coordinator Cheri Bedford lauded Drake for her endless hours spent organizing and volunteering at such activities such as the Downtown Pumpkin Patch, Paris Wine Fest, Mannequin Night and Festival of Pumpkins. She was instrumental in jumpstarting the fundraising for the downtown restroom at First United Church water park.
“When her service was up on the board, she still volunteered her time for events such as Market Square Affair, selling hot chocolate at events and in organizing food trucks at Mannequin Night,” Bedford said. “Downtown Paris is enriched because of Jill Drake’s commitment and service to the community.”
Help me give Drake a warm send off before she leaves mid-April. And thank her for more than a decade of service, standing up for children and victims of crime, and giving of her time and efforts to help Paris become a better place.