PROTECTOR OF PRESIDENTS
Think “The Bodyguard” or “Guarding Tess.” Now replace the leading men with a tall, slender woman in a conservative suit and the strength to take you down. Kathleen Flatley Hickman’s 1976 Ursuline graduation photo shows her among many in white gowns and hats. The photo belies the fact that she will spend 31 years in the United States Secret Service, protecting everyone from former First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama to former President George W. Bush, Pope John Paul II and foreign dignitaries. In 1999, The New York Times documented her role as coordinator of security for the NATO leaders gathering in New York for their 50th anniversary celebration. The article’s title was “In Her Hands.” Now a security consultant, Hickman will receive Ursuline’s 2018 Alumnae Award Nov. 11. Her home office on Echo Brook Lane is crowded with photos of those she protected as well as her 20-year-old son, who attends Texas A&M University.
What happened after your graduated from Ursuline?
I went to Texas Tech. I graduated and was looking for a job, and my dad said, “There’s this new hotel downtown called the Anatole. Why don’t you go apply there?” I started working there as a concierge. At the time, that’s where a lot of the Secret Service agents stayed. One of the recruiters approached me and said, “Why don’t you fill out an application?” A year later, I was hired. About 10 percent of the agents were female.
Were there any dangerous moments?
Once we were conducting a search warrant for credit-card fraud in an apartment complex. One of the suspects bolted and got in a tussle with me and another agent. But all was good. Another time I was driving past El Fenix, and this car went flying out of the intersection, airborne, and landed on top of a Volkswagen on Cedar Springs. I called on my radio, “Get an ambulance!” The next thing I know, the guy gets out of the Volkswagen. He’s fine. The bad guy tumbles out of his car. He’s only got a T-shirt on and runs up the street. I’m thinking, “I’ve got to go chase this guy.” He collapses in the street. I pull up my car, get on my Federal Agent jacket and tell him, “I’m calling an ambulance.” Then he jumps up and starts choking me. A good Samaritan came out and helped me, so that was interesting.
How did you stay in shape?
I was always a runner. I work out. And that’s big when you’re traveling and on protective detail. The days are long, and it’s important to keep healthy. When President Clinton used to jog, I was like, “Oh my God.” It’s one thing jogging when you’re in your shorts and t-shirt, but it’s another when you have a gun and a radio. When I was Michelle Obama’s detail leader, I started working on core and yoga, just for my lower back.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Just to not worry so much. Keep a journal.
What recommendations do you have for others who want to have a similar career?
I fell into it. It’s competitive. You don’t have to be a criminal justice major to be with the Secret Service. It helps, but if you’re really interested, go into law enforcement. Some of the federal agencies don’t hire right out of college. And then just go for it. I had a really good experience working for the government.
What was your uniform?
If it’s a black-tie affair, the men wear tuxes. Females wear a black suit and a white blouse. If the presidents go golfing, you wear khakis. At the Bush’s Crawford ranch, you wear blue jeans.
What personal sacrifices did you make for your career?
You miss family events and holidays. Fortunately, I only missed one of my son’s birthdays, but he remembers that. I was home the next day but it still didn’t count. He was 11. You must have the support of family and understanding. I never complained to my son or talked badly about the job. He understood that’s just what I did.
How did you balance work and home life?
I was one of the first three females that had been hired in the field office. I was already a supervisor when my son was born. When I was pregnant, our shift was supposed to go train with the New York emergency response team. I never, ever called in sick or anything, and I told them, “Okay, here’s the story. I’m pregnant. But I still want to work. I still want to be on the shift. Don’t say anything to the bosses.” My supervisor was so good. He said, “You can go do a desk day and miss the training.” For the next month, I worked the shift and did my thing. And then the last day, I told my boss, who hadn’t been there, “Sir, I’m going to have a baby.” And he said, “Yeah, I know.” And I said, “Well, thank you for not freaking out and pulling me off the shift.”
What is your most memorable experience?
When Pope John Paul II visited the U.S., I was a fairly new agent and they put together jump teams of agents to leapfrog to the next stop. I was on the jump team when the Pope started in Miami, went to New Orleans, California and Detroit. I came in a day later so I thought as a new agent I wouldn’t see anything. I was just happy to be a part of it. When I went to my assignment, the site supervisor agent said, “Okay, so you’re going to be in this chapel and there’s going to be a still photographer and a camera man, and then the Pope’s going to come in here with his detail leader and pray.” As a Catholic girl, that was a big deal for me. I was kneeling for eight or nine hours. I called my dad that night and said, “Dad, I think I’m good to go if I miss Mass for a year.” There were so many opportunities and places that I went to that I would never have had the chance to experience otherwise. I rode an elephant in Nepal in the jungle with Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea. Working at the White House was a privilege.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.