Lucy Hebron: From Europe to East Texas
Lucy Hebron is the first woman elected County Judge in Wood County, a small county in East Texas. Her passion for liberty and justice stems from her grandparents’ lives in war-torn Europe. While her paternal grandparents were U.S. citizens, her maternal grandparents and mother were not. Her mother’s family fled from country to country until ending up in Berlin, Germany during World War II. It was there that Lucy’s father, an American serviceman, met her mother. The two married, returned to the United States to live and start a family. Lucy was born Abilene, Texas, and moved several times as a military dependent living in Texas and Europe. Years later, with her education behind her, Lucy eventually settled in East Texas. It is a combination of her family’s history and her own observations in Europe that established Lucy’s understanding of liberty and freedom. This is her story: from Europe to East Texas.
Lucy was raised around the world—literally. Her family’s story begins on the brink of World War II. Lucy’s mother was born in Latvia in1936 to parents who could not have been more different: her grandmother was a Russian citizen and her grandfather a German businessman living and working in Russia. With Germany fighting for the Axis powers and Russia fighting for the Allies, the family was forced to flee their home. Living as refugees for many years and leaving behind Lucy’s grandfather, Lucy’s grandmother and the four children (one of them Lucy’s mother) permanently settled in Berlin, Germany. The family lived through one last conflict—the Berlin Blockade. It was there that Lucy’s mother met Lucy’s father while he was serving in the Air Force. After falling in love, the two resettled in the United States—a dream held by Lucy’s mother and her family.
It is this story of perseverance that makes Lucy’s mom so special to Lucy—serving as her first role model. She admired her mother’s strength and courage living under persecution, totalitarian governments, and extreme hardship., Her mother held onto a shred of hope that the family could live in a free country one day. “I am blessed to come from a long line of strong and resilient ancestors on both sides of my family, including many women in the family who endured and suffered but eventually persevered and prospered during hardship.” It is Lucy’s family that shaped her into the person she is today.
“My experiences as a military dependent also shaped my beliefs and my ideas of freedom, equality and justice,” said Lucy. Living on a military base in a foreign country and visiting historic landmarks left lasting impressions on her. One of those landmarks was the Berlin Wall. She remembers learning about the struggle of people attempting to escape Soviet-controlled East Germany in order to live in the free, Western part of Berlin. People would resort to all different ways to “get out of East Germany” and many attempts ended in death. Those deaths were marked with crosses, flowers, and memorials on the Western side of the Wall. Lucy said, “what most Americans take for granted are what so many people would gladly die for, if it meant the chance to live in freedom.” Lucy would return to study abroad in Germany as a Rotary International Scholar after college. It was her time spent overseas that shaped her view of freedom, liberty, and justice.
Lucy graduated from Hardin Simmons University. While in college, she was first exposed to politics while working on Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign as part of a class assignment. While volunteering on President Reagan’s campaign and witnessing change firsthand, Lucy was inspired to consider public service. When speaking about local politics, Lucy said “[i]f you want some change in the world, you got to go after it.”
After graduating from University of Houston Law Center, Lucy started her career as a lawyer. Immediately it was evident that men and women were treated differently in the legal field. She recognized the men in the legal field were described as “strong”, “capable”, “aggressive”, and “competent”. However, women who acted in the same ambitious manner were labeled “unladylike” or “unattractive.” Lucy was saddened to see the disparate treatment here in the US given her experience in Europe. There, she observed women in leadership positions and in traditional male professions as regular and common. The disparity for women in leadership is even greater in rural communities where old traditions and beliefs are not easily changed. When she first came to East Texas (and there were few women attorneys), Lucy recalled entering a courtroom where the judge had assumed her to be the client instead of the attorney. “[T]here is a built-in bias when you are the new kid on the block, the unconventional one, or the woman in the male-dominated ‘club’,” Lucy said, “[w]e just have to keep going and work hard.” After several years of practicing with Big Law in Houston, Lucy eventually settled in Mineola, Texas—a small town in East Texas that is home to one of the largest nature preserves in the country. For many years she ran a successful law practice, raised a family and served on different community, charity, and education boards.
When the opportunity to run for county judge presented itself, Lucy sought the advice of colleagues, former professors, and family before deciding to run. Though she had no formal experience in public service, Lucy approached the position like a full-time job. She started to reach out to other county judges in the area for tips. She connected with her local Republican Party which connected her with different training programs for campaigning. Above all, she presented herself as an asset in this position. Lucy was the only licensed attorney running for the position.
In Texas, county judges are not required to be an attorney though they can oversee a judicial docket. For our readers who aren’t familiar with this position, a county judge has a dual role: presiding over the administrative aspects of a county like the Commissioner’s Court and in smaller counties, presiding over a judicial docket of criminal misdemeanors, civil matters, appeals from J.P. courts, probate matters, and mental health commitment cases. Every county has different needs and requirements. Once a county reaches a population threshold and if the caseload warrants it, a county may seek to start a county court at law (with all the attendant expense that involves). To save Wood County as much money as possible, Lucy believes that because she is a licensed attorney she can and does save the county money by handling contested cases that would otherwise have to be transferred to a judge who is an attorney, by trying innovative ways to create more judicial efficiencies, and by working on the large number of cases that existed when she took office. With Wood County located in a rural region of the state, Lucy has also encouraged measured economic development by calling for a strategic master plan for planned growth and has advocated for broadband access for constituents. “I have tried to advocate for my constituents as hard as I would have if they were my clients” noting that sometimes citizens in the rural areas aren’t given the same political or economic advantages as those in the large, urban areas. All our citizens deserve equal treatment regardless of their geographic location, their socio-economic status or any other factor”.
Lucy won over her constituents by working hard and reaching out to as many constituents as she could—literally campaigning door-to-door. She was elected as the first woman to serve as Wood County Judge. When it comes to advice for the next generation of women, Lucy had a short checklist for every future leader. First, she encourages young women to find a mentor, even if it means you have to go outside of your comfort zone. Second, she tells leaders to be authentic and genuine, quoting Shakespeare’s “to thine own self be true.” Third, she said “stick to your beliefs.” While being a leader can be lonely and sometimes requires taking an unpopular view, stick to it.