The appointment by Governor Steve Beshear, as well as the win in the May 2008 primary for a permanent seat, was the beginning of a journey Guiling was more than ready to take. In fact she had been preparing for the journey for 13 years – in 1995 at age 42 she decided to pursue her life-long desire for a college degree.
“I wanted to raise a family first,” said Guiling on why it took her so long to start fulfilling that desire of a degree. “My family was my number one priority. That was the plan from the start for me. After my children were grown I felt it was time to move onto the next chapter in my life – to get an education and to come back to my community and use it to help others as well as my children and grandchildren.”
The desire of a local girl who took the road for family first then turned down the next for her community is why Gail Guiling was selected as the News-Democrat & Leader’s 2009 Citizen of the Year.
Major decisions for Gail Cropper Guiling all began in 1971 as a senior at Russellville High School when she was accepted into the esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass. Guiling was an extraordinary student winning numerous awards and carrying a very high GPA throughout her school career. It wasn’t a surprise when MIT came calling, but almost everyone but herself was surprised by her answer.
Many teachers and fellow students thought they could predict Gail’s road after high school by the talents she possessed at such an early age. With her intelligence and determination it was expected Gail would graduate high school and off to MIT she would go. What they couldn’t predict; however, is how that would come much later in Gail’s life and that raising a family is what she really wanted more than anything at that time.
So Guiling turned down MIT and married eventually having the son and daughter she always wanted.
“It was great. A lot of people couldn’t understand why I choose that road first,” said Guiling whose peers left home while she stayed behind. “It was a decision I wouldn’t have changed for anything and one I am very grateful I made,” she said.
A couple of decades later after Guiling’s son David and daughter Dawn grew up, Guiling took her turn at education, the one her friends took years earlier. She choose a community college first thinking maybe she would become a paralegal or possibly study history. She wasn’t really sure what she wanted to earn a degree in until a philosophy professor told her she could do anything she wanted to and needed to transfer to Western Kentucky University. It was there she was assigned to reads the book “Simple Justice” which she said changed her life forever.
The book was about a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities. The decision overturned earlier rulings going back to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This victory paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.
“It was then I knew what I wanted,” said Guiling. “I wanted to fight for justice. I wanted to make the world a safer place for my family and the families of others. I wanted to become an attorney,” said Guiling.
Guiling graduated with a 4.0 grade point average from Western Kentucky University at age 47. She received numerous awards and distinctions such as becoming a Potter College Scholar and receiving the Ogden Trustees' Award. She was accepted into Harvard Law School soon after, earning her law degree at age 50 graduating in the 50th class of women at in the university’s history.
Guiling said although she is very proud of her degree, she does not allow it to rule who she is. In fact, she tries not to bring attention to the achievement. She thinks of herself as just an average woman who loves her family and community and wants to now make a difference in her community.
“I don't want people to look at me and the first thing that comes into their minds is Harvard,” said Guiling. “I want to be looked at as someone who wants to help and will do so anyway I can.”
Guiling returned home after Harvard to fulfill her dreams of change her own community. She started out as Logan County’s Assistant County Attorney serving with county attorney Tom Noe, who says Gail is one of the most talented attorney’s he has had the opportunity to serve with.
“When I was appointed by the governor to fill in for Charles Orange after his death I was sorrowful. To come into a position under those circumstances is very difficult. I felt for the Orange family and I was not able to allow myself to see this appointment as anything more than filling in for someone who was taken so early from a job well done,” said Guiling.
It was after serving for a few months that Guiling felt this was where she needed to be. She ran in the May primary against Elizabeth Wilson wining by 1,279 votes. She got 59 percent of the votes in Logan and Todd counties. She carried 19 of Logan County's 20 precincts.
“I'm very grateful for the amount of support I received and the confidence that the voters showed in me," Guiling said.
Guiling said it really meant a lot to her that she was able to finish what she had started, especially certain cases like the Merlin Overholt case. She really wanted to see that through to completion. Guiling was instrumental in Overholt’s conviction and sentencing of 50 years for molesting several children.
Other high profile cases Guiling’s office has brought to justice include Russell Farmer who was convicted in Logan County of sexual crimes against his daughter, a conviction of a teacher in Logan County who sent sexually explicit materiel to a student, a 35-year sentence for a man in Todd county for methamphetamine manufacturing and the solving of a 28-year-old cold case in Todd County where a man had raped and murdered his girlfriend but eluded justice for over two decades.
The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has won approximately 95 percent of it’s cases presented since Guiling took office. In no way does Guiling take all the credit. She said it is a team effort and gives a great deal of accomplishment to the people in her office.
“Any job such as this takes team work. I was lucky to have come into a very talented and dedicated team when I began as Commonwealth Attorney. It is together that we make a difference and is never due to one person,” said Guiling.
Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Joe Ross said Gail is great to work with.
“We really do work together as a team. She really does care about others. The reason I believe we all work so well together is because she trusts those she delegates to. When she believes in you then you are part of the team,” said Ross.
Victim Advocate Amy Varble said Gail is an “awesome” boss. Very dedicated to justice and to her community.
Kay Isenberg, Guiling’s legal assistant said, “It is truly a pleasure to work with such a dedicated and educated Commonwealth Attorney, whom one can respect, and you know that at all times her first and foremost concern is protecting the citizens of our community through the pursuit of justice.”
Guiling is also very involved in her community civically. She has been active in Kiwanis since 2003 serving as its president. Kiwanis is very important to Guiling because it serves the children.
“Every dime we collect from fundraising goes into the community and to its children,” said Guiling.
Another passion of Guiling's is the Logan County Humane Society where she has been active for years. She has served as the organizations president and is currently a board member. “Everyone who knows me knows I have a passion for animals,” said Guiling who has two cats (Harley and Bella) she considers part of the family.
Guiling has also served on the Adult Literacy Council for the past six years. Education is important to Guiling. “You see more and more people getting their GED. They are finding out that it is not the end but the beginning. Education is one of the ways that you are going to be able to provide the best way for your life and your children’s lives. It has become generational. It has become what is expected,” said Guiling.
As to what is in the future for Gail she says she is content where she is right now. She does want to continue to challenge herself and says she has always wanted to learn how to play the piano.
“I enjoy being Logan and Todd counties’ Commonwealth Attorney. You don’t get a feeling of pleasure by depriving a humane being of their freedom but I do get a good feeling by playing a role in protecting society from those who have been shown to be a danger to it. I look forward to helping keep this world a safer and better place to live as long as I am allowed to do so,” said Guiling.
Gail is married to her husband of many years Quinton. They have four grandchildren, Jacob, Katie, Parker and Haley.