Debra Pryor

Debra Pryor at Willard in 1974

Debra Pryor has quietly but firmly forged a career of firsts. She was only the second black woman in the nation to become a fire chief. In Berkeley, she was the first female firefighter, paramedic and paramedic supervisor, and the first woman to hold the titles of lieutenant, captain, assistant chief, deputy chief and fire chief. Pryor credited her family and her Berkeley upbringing with giving her the determination to blaze her own trail. When she was just a kindergartner, Pryor’s mother, a BUSD employee, signed her up for the city’s new school integration program. “I was one of three African-American kids in my class,” Pryor said in a 2012 interview. “That didn’t mean anything to me at the time. But it was the kind of experience that prepared me to be successful and to be OK with being different from others. I had countless experiences later in life where I was the only woman and the only African-American, and I had the courage and the confidence to lead, speak up and to have an opinion that was different than others.” At Willard, she remembered being impressed by the supportive and caring teachers she had. “They were very selfless; they really gave of themselves,” she recalls. “I think that had a lot to do with why I chose to get into public service myself.”