Theresa Young, 66, of Huntingdon Valley, the first Black woman to be commanding officer of the Public Affairs Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department, who rose to staff inspector and was praised by fellow officers and many city officials, died Sunday, Nov. 14, of cancer at Abington Memorial Hospital Home Care in Willow Grove.

Named Robin Elizabeth Theresa Young at her birth in Philadelphia, Staff Inspector Young was never called anything but Theresa, Terri, or Toots, her family said. She was quiet at home, liked to read Jane Austen novels, and wore shirts adorned with roses and a bit of lace under her police uniform, her sister Jayne said.

On the job, Staff Inspector Young excelled in the male-dominated Police Department in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. She fashioned a decorated 33-year career that included leadership positions in the Public Affairs Unit and the Internal Affairs Bureau, at the police academy, and as a district lieutenant.

In 1980, she told the Philadelphia Tribune, “I think people are learning that a female police officer can and will produce in any field of police work.”

Promoted half a dozen times, she won citations for apprehending a robbery suspect and publicizing safety programs for women and the elderly. In 2003, she won the Shirley Chisholm Award for service from the Philadelphia Congress of the National Congress of Black Women.

She directed the department’s local media presence for seven years and hosted several local cable TV shows, including Philadelphia’s Most Wanted in 1991. She edited and wrote for the department’s monthly magazine, penned public remarks for several police commissioners, represented the department at countless public events, and trained aspiring officers at the police academy.

After promoting her to lead the Public Affairs Unit in 1989, Police Commissioner Willie Williams told the Tribune: “I never once thought to ask someone outside of the office.”

In 1989, after Philadelphia was cited by a national uniform manufacturer for having the best uniforms among 45 big-city police departments, a photo of Staff Inspector Young accompanied at least one of the newspaper stories. She was also the public face of the department at crime scenes, news conferences, and visits by Santa Claus to holiday parties at district headquarters.

“We were all proud of her,” said her brother John. “She was the baby of the family, and we thought we had to look out for her. But she ended up looking out for us.”

Born July 15, 1955, Staff Inspector Young grew up in West Mount Airy, graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls in 1973, and joined the Police Department in 1977 as a patrol officer following a federal mandate to increase the number of women on the force.

Over the years, she took night classes at La Salle University and earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in professional communication. She told reporters that she had a few novels rolling around in the back of her mind and that she liked to write short stories to give away as Christmas gifts.

“Everybody knew who she was in Mount Airy, and they would always ask me about her,” said her brother Richard.

Away from work, Staff Inspector Young liked horses and belonged to a riding club. She rescued dogs, especially basset hounds and dachshunds, and enjoyed watching historical documentaries on public TV. Married and divorced twice, she lived in Germantown and then relocated to Huntingdon Valley

She was involved with the Maryland-based National Organization of Black Women in Law Enforcement and took great pride in her career-long connections with the public. “It was always a pleasure for people to recognize me and call me by my name,” she told the Tribune.

In 1989, Staff Inspector Young, then in charge of the department’s monthly magazine, Badge and Key, printed an essay by her sister Jayne, and it ended this way: “This mature, attractive, young police officer, I have seen as a child, and now I see her as a woman. She is someone that I love and admire. She is my baby sister.”

In addition to her siblings, Staff Inspector Young is survived by other relatives. Two sisters died earlier.

Services were private.