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Rae Marie Odoms, 78, pioneering black woman police officer

As a civil affairs officer, she was on duty for the 1985 MOVE disaster

Rae Marie Odoms
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RAE MARIE WARNER was something of an oddity back in 1970: a black female Philadelphia police officer.

In fact, there is every indication that Rae was the first African-American woman hired as a Philadelphia cop.

The Police Department put her in the Juvenile Aid Division, as it did with all female police officers in those days. It didn't want them out on patrol.

That policy has long been changed, and women today patrol the city streets along with the men. Rae Warner might have been one of the pioneers who helped bring about the change.

After her stint in Juvenile Aid, Rae was transferred to the Civil Affairs Unit, where her talents as a calming influence and negotiator stood her in good stead. She spent 20 years on the police force.

Rae Marie Odoms, as she became after marrying Bernard Odoms II, died March 26. She was 78 and lived in Germantown.

Odoms was a civil-affairs officer whose assignments included being on duty when the MOVE disaster struck in 1985 and helping protect Pope John Paul II when he came to the city in 1979.

"She was a pioneer," said her nephew, state Rep. Dwight Evans. "She did the groundwork for women in the department today. She was clearly in the forefront.

"She was very quiet and ladylike, but she meant business. She was my favorite aunt."

Rae was born in North Philadelphia to Jacey S. Warner and the former Helen Pamplin. She graduated from William Penn High School and went on to Peirce Junior College, where she studied stenography.

For a time, she was an administrative assistant to Renee Fox, a University of Pennsylvania sociology professor and author. She held a number of other secretarial positions before joining the Police Department in 1970.

She was working crowd control when the police dropped a bomb on the MOVE headquarters in West Philadelphia on May 13, 1985, setting a fire that killed 11 people, including five children.

"She was very disturbed about how it was handled," said her son, Bernard Odoms III.

Rae, who was Catholic, was thrilled when she was assigned to the detail protecting Pope John Paul II during his visit to Philadelphia in October 1979.

After retiring from the Police Department, she spent 15 years as a secretary at Simon Gratz High School in the area of North Philadelphia where she grew up.

Family members said Odoms advocated an "organized and orderly life."

"She was a very detail-oriented person," her son said. "I will miss her companionship the most. She always wanted to know what was going on, and we could talk about everything."

Bradford Chambers, her grandson, said: "She always sent me a basket of fruit for my birthday. My birthday was Feb. 24, and I got that basket.

"She was always encouraging me to live healthy and plan my life. Though I did not have as much contact with her as I got older, I knew that she always supported me and I could go to her."

Rae enjoyed many activities after her retirement, including tennis, reading, traveling, visiting museums and attending cultural events.

She often attended Mass at area Catholic churches, including St. Bridget's in East Falls.

Her marriage to Bernard Odoms II ended after 30 years.

Besides her son and grandson, she is survived by a sister, Judy Warner Knight, and a brother, Jacey David Warner Jr.

Family members decided to make her funeral a nontraditional event. A celebration-of-life memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Relish Restaurant, 7152 Ogontz Ave.