People dial 911 when they’ve been shot, stabbed or rear-ended. When their kids jam things up their noses or when a neighbor’s dog barks all night. When they fear extraterrestrial invasions or just the aching quiet of an empty house.
For 18 years, Cobb County dispatcher Holly Rogers was the calm voice frantic mothers heard when their babies weren’t breathing. She was the human GPS that officers needed to trail fleeing suspects in the era before Waze or Google Maps. In the slow hours before dawn she’d spare a few minutes with “frequent fliers,” as they’re known in the business.
“Holly would sit there and talk to them until they got past the loneliness,” dispatcher Jennifer Manditch said. “She never made anybody feel like a burden for calling in.”
Rogers died on Sept. 15 at age 53, six years after a cancer diagnosis. Her colleagues honored her by releasing balloons, by placing her portrait in the dispatch room, and by issuing an emotional farewell over the radio frequency she commanded for so long.
“Holly has left her undeniable mark on this world, and she will always be loved,” dispatcher Tina Rutledge broadcast in a trembling voice. “Badge 9431, Holly Rogers, rest easy, we have the watch from here.”
Listen to the call here:
Rutledge aired the transmission in tears but smiled often when talking about her co-worker and friend.
“She had that empathy and that compassion and love,” she said.
Rogers had investigative instincts, too. Years ago, a match-happy crew stayed a step ahead of the law, torching one yard after another. Rogers reviewed call logs to guess their likely next target and alerted officers, who nabbed the firebugs in action.
Long before cars and phones were equipped with navigational technology, Rogers would grab map books to guide officers. Often, after a crisis passed, she’d dial victims back to check on them.
“We don’t get a lot of closure in this job,” said 911 records supervisor Michelle Ottosen. “She just genuinely cared.”
Dispatchers get to know first responders by voice, but Rogers always made sure to meet them face to face. She and Jason Rogers, then with the Cobb County Police Department, met over the air before a blind date over frozen yogurt. They married in May 2001 at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. She was diagnosed 12 years later.
“I never thought I’d be here,” Jason Rogers said at her funeral. “In the military, as an officer, I never thought I’d be doing this. I thought she’d be doing this for me.”
He served in the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve and spent 15 months in Iraq after 9/11. Today he is chief investigator at the Cobb County solicitor general’s office. Holly was diagnosed after experiencing stomach pain and thought she might have a gall bladder issue. When doctors said they’d do all they could after reviewing her bloodwork, she knew that meant she wouldn’t see the grandchildren grow up. She didn’t let life’s ticking clock define the time she had left, though.
“She was very courageous and she was a true warrior,” Jason Rogers said. His wife was down to 60 pounds at the end, he said. “I think if you opened up her body, 59 of that would have been heart.”
Cancer took Holly’s gall bladder, spleen, liver, pancreas and a lung, but not her sense of humor. A young nurse asked why so many police officers were visiting during one hospital stay.
“They’re here investigating a nurse, but I don’t know which one,” Holly whispered to the horrified caregiver. (She later set the poor girl straight.)
Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home, a block from the Cobb County Police Department and 911 Center near the Marietta Square, was packed the day of the funeral. Proceedings began with a solemn salute from a police honor guard, then Jason Rogers left his seat in the front pew.
“Do not be this quiet. Holly Rogers was not this quiet,” he said. “This is going to be a fun funeral. I know you’re a little sad. I am too. But I’m telling you, she is in a great place.”
He took his seat again about the time Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” cranked up. All aboarrrrd!
Here’s a clip:
It was the perfect send-off for a professional who never lost her cool, even when a suspect shot and wounded an officer while dispatchers listened. She was also an animal lover who brought home dog after homeless dog, including a German shepherd set to be put down. (Bullet, as the happy guy was called, never left her side.)
And yes, Holly Rogers once coaxed officers with a little downtime to the home of an elderly late-night caller who was convinced aliens from outer space were on the move. Once the guys in blue covered the caller’s windows in tin foil, the little green men ceased being a threat and the frequent flier quit dialing 911 all the time.
“All the dispatchers are great, but she was something else,” said Marietta Police Department Officer Michael Freer. “She cared for every one of us. She cared for the public, too. She as one of a kind.”
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