A woman of faith. A great friend, wife and mother. A powerful legislator. A career law enforcement officer. A trailblazer.
Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) is many things to many different people around Alabama.
However, throughout all of her roles and responsibilities, intertwined with a multitude of exemplary traits, is the unmistakable fact that Rowe is a leader.
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R- Monrovia) remarked to Yellowhammer News, “From her first moments as a member of the Alabama House, Rep. Connie Rowe set herself apart as a leader and as someone whose words would be respected and appreciated by her colleagues. Those same leadership skills allowed her to become the first female police chief in Jasper, Alabama.”
‘Challenges? I think all people face challenges’
Rowe is also someone who embraces challenges and has turned the hurdles that come with being a woman in a historically male career field into opportunities, shattering glass ceilings at every step along the way.
“Challenges? I think all people face challenges in their career paths. Your male colleagues are also subject to the pace and progressiveness of your leadership,” she told Yellowhammer News when asked about some unique obstacles that she has faced in leadership.
Advising that there undoubtedly “are some challenges unique to women working in male-dominated fields like law enforcement and in the political arena,” she shared her outlook on dealing with them.
“In 1984 when I joined Jasper Police Department as a nightshift Patrol Officer, my training officer informed me I had been assigned to him because none of the other seasoned officers wanted to deal with a 21-year-old female rookie,” Rowe reminisced. “He used that circumstance to challenge himself and motivate me. It worked in a positive way for both of us. I acknowledged him the day I was sworn in as Chief of Police for the City of Jasper.”
From a rookie officer no one wanted as a partner to becoming the City of Jasper’s first ever female police chief in 2011, Rowe has come a long way. It was not easy, but with her mentality and trademark toughness, the sky has always been the limit for her ascent.
However, even after she reached the top of her profession, Rowe still had naysayers when running for the Alabama House of Representatives for the first time in 2014.
She said, “Thirty years later on a Saturday morning in 2014, I was campaigning in a rural community for my first election to the House of Representatives and experienced similar sentiment. I approached an older gentleman at a curb market and gave him my best campaign pitch. I kept talking hoping I could change the blank expression on his face. When I finally ran out of words, he continued to stare for a moment then shared with me his vision of where I should be and what I should be worried about.”
“Bless him,” Rowe continued. “He’s somewhere being him, and I’m in Montgomery being me. Again, it worked out well for us both.”
“The point of sharing both of those situations is that they are understandable when a woman emerges in a new arena and that they did not deter me from moving forward,” she emphasized.
Making history time after time
Rowe is proud of some of the “firsts” she has been able to achieve in the state, humbly adding, “I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to hold some first female posts. I’m grateful for those opportunities.”
In addition to her Jasper Police Department trailblazing, Rowe was the first female investigator to ever serve the Walker County District Attorney’s Office (14th Judicial Circuit), doing so from 1988-2010.
Then, her election to serve the citizens of House District Thirteen in 2014 broke down another barrier, as did her election as vice chair of the Alabama House Republican Caucus in 2016, which made her the first female in state history to hold a GOP caucus-elected leadership position.
McCutcheon advised, “The respect and admiration that Rep. Rowe commands from her fellow Republicans is evidenced by the fact that she was elected to serve as vice chair of the House Republican Caucus while still a freshman member.”
Perhaps what makes her most proud is the knowledge that more young women will see these types of opportunities as real possibilities for themselves.
Rowe said, “Seeing a woman do something that historically has only been done by a man unlocks that role in the mind of all watching.”
‘A public servant who cares deeply about her constituents’
In the legislature, Rowe – in addition to continuing her service as GOP caucus vice chair – is the vice chair of both the powerful House Rules Committee and the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. She also holds seats on the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, the House State Government Committee and the House Internal Affairs Committee, which is responsible for disciplining members who violate chamber rules and handling other matters related to the body’s operations.
Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) told Yellowhammer News, “I first came to know Connie Rowe when we served together in the Alabama House, and it has been my honor to bear firsthand witness to her effectiveness as a lawmaker and as a public servant who cares deeply about her constituents.”
One of her biggest lasting legacies in the legislature, Ainsworth said, will be that Rowe “passed landmark legislation that makes it easier for military veterans to gain employment.”
Indeed, her time serving the public has been marked with numerous tangible accomplishments that advanced the safety and wellbeing of the community, both in the state house and in law enforcement.
Ainsworth extolled her “efforts to combat crime, protect the public, and uphold the law,” while highlighting her “tireless” advocacy for victims.
At the end of the day, Rowe said, “I think Jasper Police Department was in better shape the day I left than what I found the day I walked into the building.”
“We developed a well-trained Critical Incident Response Team following Sandy Hook that included deep involvement with the local school system. Another contributing circumstance is that I was also able to prepare and present a case on one of my officers that resulted in his federal prosecution. That resolution eliminated an element of corruption that existed within the department before my tenure began,” she outlined.
Rowe has also been a leading authority on domestic violence related-crimes for decades.
She explained, “Earlier in my law enforcement career, I authored and developed a domestic violence curriculum that is used in all law enforcement academies in the state. From 1988 until 2010, I conducted law enforcement trainings in the public law enforcement academies as well as regional trainings in the subject areas of DV, Sex Crimes and Crime Victims Rights on behalf of the Alabama Peace Officers and Training Commission and the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence.”
‘What a wonderful world this would be’
Perhaps the most personally rewarding part of her career journey has been positively influencing those around her, Rowe said.
“Leadership roles give you opportunities to impact the path of others,” she advised. “I think the most important leadership responsibility is to help the people around you develop to their greatest potential. I’ve had that experience while leading a police department and as an elected official. Grabbing the hand of another person and hoisting them up in this world is rewarding. If we all did that continuously, what a wonderful world this would be.”
McCutcheon reflected, “There is no doubt that Connie Rowe is a ‘woman of impact’ because I know she has positively impacted my life and the lives of all of those around her. She is most definitely deserving of this fine honor.”
And, with all that she has done and continues to do in the public sphere, Rowe has always had her priorities straight: Faith, family and friends.
“I am proud to know Connie Rowe and am humbled to be her friend because she truly personifies the words in Matthew 5:16, which read, ‘…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven,’” Ainsworth lauded.
“Without a doubt,” Rowe said, her biggest accomplishment in life, “is bringing a child into this world.”
“The miraculous way in which children come into our lives and the responsibility we bear in raising them in this world are, to me, the most important role we serve in as women,” she added.
To all those aspiring girls out there looking to make their own way as a leader, Rowe offered some powerful advice.
“Don’t let the world define you. Define yourself, because even people who love you may not realize who you are capable of being,” she emphasized. “Remember that seeking equality doesn’t mean you want to be treated special and specific to your gender. It, in fact, means the exact opposite.”
Rowe concluded, “Leadership is organic for some and a hard fought battle for others. Find your spot and become relevant to what draws your interest. Leaders are essential at every level of a successful process. And finally, rely upon the fact that God has a plan. Lend yourself to it.”
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Connie Rowe a 2019 Woman of Impact.
The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.