By Anna DeWine
XENIA — The county’s first female field inspector is retiring after 36 years.
Deborah Leopold’s retirement comes after a career she began at 23, a fresh graduate of Wright State University.
During her first interview with the Environmental Health Division in October of 1980, the director asked Leopold if she could lift a septic tank lid.
She replied, “Can you?”
When he said that he, indeed, could, she responded, “Well then I guess I can, too.”
Leopold made her name in the field. Not just because she was female, but because she was tough. She was smart. And she was resilient.
As a field inspector, also called a Registered Sanitarian or Registered Environmental Health Specialist, Leopold inspected restaurants, grocery stores, schools, swimming pools, body art facilities, and water systems all across Greene County.
Greene County Public Health’s (GCPH) Environmental Health Division works to prevent disease, protect the environment, and simply promote a healthy community. Leopold made safety and health a part of her everyday life, constantly adhering to the standards and implementing each change as quickly as it came.
Leopold transitioned from field inspector to Supervisor of the Environmental Health Division in 1998. She continued to work to prevent and reduce risks and disease throughout the county.
Then in October of 2000, she took the title of Director of Environmental Health Division, from which she is now retiring.
From 1980 to 2016, the industry has changed quite a bit, Leopold says.
But that’s the nature of public health.
“We are constantly watching the state, the country, the world,” Leopold said. “Greene County Public Health does it well. We are always right there, constantly monitoring, keeping step with that.”
From using carbon paper copies to completely electronic inspections, Leopold has seen it all, and has certainly managed to keep up.
“Then — it was floors, walls and ceilings. Now — it’s sciences. It’s temperatures, bacteria in water, mosquitoes, infectious organisms,” Leopold said.
Learning on the job was one of Leopold’s favorite parts of her tenure at GCPH. Each day meant something different, and each new staff meant new changes and new relationships.
“Every day I learn something,” Leopold said. “When you learn on your job, you want to continue to do your job.”
Leopold constantly learned — and constantly taught. Public health, she says, is all about education, education, education.
“That’s what’s going to save us,” she said.
But the very best part of her job, the most rewarding, is helping families.
Leopold helped families by providing social services, offering assistance, sharing resources, but also sharing compassion.
“It’s when you latch onto a family…and help keep a roof over their heads,” Leopold explained. “Making sure that they have medical assistance, and food that they need, and not judging that person because of their conditions.”
Although Leopold’s job was certainly not glamorous, it was also sometimes just plain hard.
One of Leopold’s challenges was responding to emergencies and taking care of public health and safety during times of crisis. Among the long days and weeks Leopold faced, she experienced the aftermath of tornadoes, H1N1, Ebola, and Zika.
“Public health is truly a profession you don’t do for the salary. Wanting to help people — that has kept me here,” Leopold said.
What she will miss, she says, are the people. The citizens of Greene County. The people she met in the field. The people with whom she worked.
“The partnerships I’ve developed over the years — I will miss those,” Leopold said.
And it is evident her co-workers feel the same.
“Deb Leopold is leaving, and she’s very difficult to replace,” Laurie Fox, Public Information Officer and longtime friend, said. “She has 35 years’ worth of knowledge.”
Leopold has her plans beyond public health, though. The first thing she’ll do upon her new retirement, she says, is visit her daughter.
At her retirement party this week, Leopold’s guests filled a map with places for her to visit.
Leopold is leaving her home at Greene County Public Health, but will always remember that first interview.
“At 23 I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Leopold said. “But I’m glad I did it.”
Leopold and staff celebrated her retirement on Tuesday.