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The first female firefighter in Galveston, Texas Judith West Dudley Dorsett was Galveston’s first lady firefighter, beginning her career on April 15, 1977, and retiring on April 15, 1997.
She was born on September 5, 1943, to Delmer and Lola West in Strafford, Missouri, and she went home on August 5, 2009.
Galveston had been home to Judy for thirty-five years and the devastation of Hurricane Ike was heartbreaking for her.
She was preceded in death by her husband George Fabian, her parents, two daughters Ronda Dudley and Dorey Fabian.
She is survived by four sons, Rory Dudley of Terre Haute, Indiana, Randy Dudley and wife Vicki of Ava, Missouri, Chriss and Russell Fabian of Galveston; and one daughter Kelly Fabian, of Galveston. She is also survived by six grandchildren and two sisters Dorothy Owens of Springfield, Missouri and Annie Larkin of Forsyth, Missouri.
The following article appeared in the Galveston Daily News as a tribute to Dorsett, who in 1977 became the first female firefighter in Galveston, Texas.
Island’s first female firefighter remembered
By Chris Paschenko
The Daily News
Published August 11, 2009
GALVESTON — Judith West Dudley Dorsett, who in 1977 became the first woman hired as a Galveston firefighter, died Wednesday in Ava, Mo., while in the company of relatives. She was 65.
After a weekend visit to Galveston, the Missouri native moved to the island in 1975 and two years later was interviewed by The Galveston Daily News while she was a fire cadet.
Dorsett, who was raised on a farm where she would “sling hay and sack feed,” told The Daily News she loved the beach and at 33 pursued the job of a firefighter to help others and to ensure a good retirement.
Dorsett worked for 20 years and spent her retirement living at the beach with her husband, George Fabian, Dorsett’s sister, Annie Larkin, said.
“She absolutely loved the beach and riding her motorcycle around Texas,” Larkin said. “She liked to fish and loved to walk the beach for hours.”
After caring for her ill husband until his death in January, Dorsett finally realized she was sick and was diagnosed with lung cancer in April, Larkin said.
“She’s going to be missed,” Larkin said. “It’s a sad time for those who are left.”
Dorsett also was preceded in death by her parents and two daughters. She is survived by four sons and one daughter.
Before she died, Dorsett said she was excited about seeing her mother, Larkin said.
“I told her, ‘I think mother’s excited, too,’ and she just grinned,” Larkin said.
Galveston Fire Department Chief Michael Varela Sr. and former Chief Danny Weber Sr. recalled the first of four women ever to pass the rigorous physical exam in the 124-year history of the paid fire department.
“We’ve had those that pass the written part of the test but have a hard time with the physical agility,” Varela said. “She led the way for females coming into the fire department.”
Weber, who is a Galveston city councilman, was Dorsett’s captain.
“Judy never backed away from work,” Weber said. “She gave 100 percent of her heart. She was a good union member, a professional firefighter and a very nice lady.”
Dorsett retired in 1997 with the rank of driver.
“When they looked for a watch for her, there was no such thing as a woman’s fireman’s watch,” Larkin said. “They had one specially made, which led her children to believe she was the first woman to retire as a firefighter in Texas.”
Dorsett didn’t want funeral services. Relatives are planning a return to Galveston to spread her ashes, Larkin said.