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Phyllis Thomas Thorpe: A Pioneer and a Trailblazer

Phyllis Thomas Thorpe

In 1972, 40 brave women applied to the Durham (NC) Police Academy…only two were chosen. Phyllis Thomas Thorpe was one of the two, becoming the first female patrol officer for the City of Durham. She has been blazing trails ever since.

Phyllis Thomas Thorpe
Phyllis Thomas Thorpe receives the Trailblazer Commendation 2017 from Durham Police Dept (submitted photo)

Phyllis Thomas Thorpe, a 1968 graduate of Hillside High School, was born in Oxford, North Carolina, and moved to the Bull City with her family at age four.  After graduating from Hillside, Thorpe attended NC Central University. She received her first college scholarship from the Durham Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, and it was at that very moment that her lifelong love and respect for Delta began. She also received a scholarship from the Veterans Americans, and relinquished the scholarship awarded by Delta Sigma Theta so that another student could benefit. 

Thorpe received her Bachelor of Arts Degree from NC Central University in Sociology and Political Science in 1971. That same year she married the love of her life, Paul Thorpe II, and to that union one son was born.  Phyllis and Paul were married for 43 years until his passing. 

Thorpe conquered her fear of guns when she joined the Durham Police Department (DPD). During her tenure with the DPD, Thorpe helped to devise and implement the department’s Friendly Officer and DARE program in area schools, organized and supervise

d the Girl’s Division of the Junior Police League, was engaged in the City’s Neighborhood Watch Program, recruited and trained school crossing guards, and received recognition for her superior marksmanship skills. After the birth of her son, Phyllis left the DPD to become a full-time mother to her son, Paul Thorpe III.

Thorpe returned to school and received a Master of Social Work from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in December 1982, specializing in services to families and children.  She was employed with Duke University Medical Center as a Clinical Social Worker/Preceptor and retired in April 1999. She earned a certification from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA). 

Thorpe has received numerous awards throughout her life including the Durham Police Department Trailblazer Commendation/Inaugural EAGLE Award in March 2017, the African American History Award in 2013, a recipient of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 2007, Outstanding Leadership Awards from St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in 1993, 1998 and 2001.  She also received the Distinguished Alumni Award from UNC School of Social Work in 2017.

Phyllis Thomas Thorpe
Phyllis Thomas Thomas received the Distinguished Alumni Award from UNC School of Social Work in 2017 (submitted photo)

A member of White Rock Baptist Church in Durham, NC, Thorpe is active in the women’s fellowship ministry, and has been a guest facilitator at numerous events. She loves to travel and is very proud and appreciative of her trip to Jerusalem, Israel in 2014. 

Thorpe became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated in 1994 and has worked on numerous committees. She co-chaired the chapter’s annual Jabberwock Scholarship Pageant in 1997. Her advice to members of the sorority would be to continue your work in Delta, and that sisterhood must be lived, exemplified, inclusive, and a display of loving unconditionally.

Thorpe’s guiding principle is to always treat everyone in a humane fashion and to love people.  She believes that you must forgive those that victimized you and you must also ask for forgiveness.  Salute to you Phyllis Thomas Thorpe for not being afraid to be that pioneer and trailblazer to all women.  

Submitted by: Sonya Scott (Durham Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.)

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Phyllis Coley
Phyllis D. Coley is CEO/Publisher of Spectacular Magazine and Host of Spectacular Magazine Radio Show. With a B.A. in English from NCCU, the Durham native began her professional career as Promotions/Marketing Director for New York City’s WKTU-FM. While at the radio station, Coley discovered the rap group Kid ‘n Play and managed them for five years, guiding their music and movie careers to success. Moving back to Durham, Coley produced a nationally syndicated television show, The Electric Factory, while working as News Director for FOXY 107/104. In April 2002, recognizing a void in highlighting the achievements of African Americans, she started her own business publishing ACE Magazine. Coley launched Spectacular Magazine in November 2004. Recognizing the lack of pertinent and truthful information, Coley began Spectacular Magazine Radio Show in March 2009. Coley is the organizer of Durham's Annual MLK/Black History Month Parade and the Annual North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration. She currently serves on Central Children’s Home Board of Directors, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Advisors, as Immediate Past Secretary of the Durham Rotary Club Board of Directors and is one of the founding members of the Triangle United Way’s African American Leadership Initiative.

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