The last policewoman

But what liberated many women oppressed a few, including Hays, who figured that wasn't the job for which she'd enlisted.

"The more they insisted I start being a patrolman, the more I resisted. I can't do a patrolman's job," says Hays, barely 5-foot-3. "There are women who can do that job. It isn't a gender thing. But I knew I could not help someone if it was a feat of strength. Also, I'm a chicken. I didn't want to go to a bar fight. I didn't want to get punched out."

Besides, she hated arresting people, which was a little like being a bartender loath to mixing drinks.

So time passed. Other policewomen graduated to the title of police officer. Or retired. But Hays clung to her policewoman's badge. She ventured into the worlds of detective work and vice. She says she was pretty good at getting a confession and decent at surveillance, but lacked in other areas.

When she posed as a CTA rider, allowing cash to dangle from her purse like worms on a hook, no pickpocket ever took the bait. Out on a drug bust, all she could think was, "I want to go home to my two children." When she dressed up as a hooker trying to lure clients, she could never make eye contact. And she couldn't talk the talk.

"I was supposed to dress so pimps would try to recruit me," she says. "I'm supposed to give a signal by combing my hair. So a pimp came up to me and said something I didn't understand. In street language. I said, `I beg your pardon?' That blew it."

For the past 10 years, Hays has mostly answered phones. She's known as "the mom of 311" in the Near West Side building where non-emergency police calls land. She counsels younger women and is famous for being able to talk the most irate 311 caller down from a tantrum.

"Nothing too much rattles her," says Officer Sharon Owens, who has worked with Hays off and on for 17 years. "And nobody messes with her. She comes and goes as she pleases. She's been around longer than the supervisors, so they kind of let her have carte blanche."

There are those who scoff that Hays chose light duty over more dangerous police work, but she wins admiration from many for surviving a bureaucracy and more than a generation of social change. She survived it while surviving two divorces, raising a couple of kids, graduating from college at 53. She survived it while her brother went to jail for dealing drugs. And she survived with good humor.

"She's a solid gold member of the KMA club," said one admiring colleague as Hays' co-workers gathered one night this week to cut her retirement cake. KMA, she explains, stands for "Kiss My ..."

In certain ways, Hays says, it was easier to be a policewoman way back then than it is to be a female police officer now. Sure, the guys liked to joke that all the policewomen liked to do was shop. Some got their kicks by watching the policewomen pull the choke in the old squad cars, a feat that often required the skirted woman to hike her leg on the dashboard. On the other hand, she says, back then the men understood more clearly that the women were there to complement them, not to compete.

As for her policewoman star, the last one on the force, the one she should have turned in on the occasion of her retirement, she reported it "lost" a few days ago to the Chicago Police Department.

Now she's going to spend her time teaching pool. Her primary tip is this: "Stay down, follow through."