From my November 2023 Newsletter:
In September I was watching commentary on the U.S. Open when a broadcaster repeated a quote from tennis great Billie Jean King.
He said she often remarked, “Pressure is a privilege.”
I was immediately struck by those words because I knew exactly what she meant.
If King, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, wasn’t feeling pressure then she wasn’t being challenged by her opponents—challenged at the highest levels of the game, challenged to rise to the occasion, challenged to play her best and win.
If Billie Jean King wasn’t feeling pressure as the #1 player in the world, wasn’t aware that numbers of younger players were hungry for her titles and record—39 Grand Slam titles—12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles then she wouldn’t play her best.
Pressure means rising to the moment. It is a privilege because there actually is a moment.
Mae Foley undoubtedly felt pressure from both her peers and her superiors while serving as one of very few women in the New York Police Department in the period from 1923 – 1945. Not to mention the pressure and lack of respect from the criminal elements as well.
But she knew exactly why she was there and what her mission was—to protect and defend the victims of crime—the lost and abandoned, the runaways, the assaulted and the scammed—children and young girls—some her daughters’ ages.
She was there for them. It drove her to do her best every day, to rise to the moment and meet the need.
Did she actually work to challenge the patriarchy in the Department?
If simply by serving and doing her job, then yes. Of course she did.
But she had no desire to wade into the morass of NYPD politics. She wasn’t interested in a promotion, a title or a higher-grade detective rank. She’d seen too many others run afoul of the NYPD and city leadership simply by publicly commenting on one topic or another, or even voicing an opinion on a political issue.
Those who were perceived to be ‘not team players’ were demoted or transferred. Some were disciplined.
Mae saw that happen to the Director of the Policewomen’s Bureau and to several detectives.
Sometimes it was hard to tell what the official stance was on a variety of public safety issues. The NYPD’s leadership changed often, sometimes faster than the city could hold elections for mayor. That revolving door seemed dizzying to Mae.
Without question, she did her job. And she did it well.
Mae recognized she was privileged to be in the position she was in—to have earned the public’s trust in serving her community, and to have the respect of the men in her precinct.
For many years she was the only policewoman assigned to the 108th Precinct in Queens. Even in retirement Mae Foley continued to serve.
By then, she was comfortable speaking out about better pay and benefits for police and firemen. Her advocacy made a difference.
To Mae Foley, the pressure was as much internal as external.
Every day she gave her best and remained steadfast in her beliefs and her commitment. She was true to the Department’s motto: Fidelis ad Mortem—Faithful Unto Death.
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