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Like father, like daughter: Deputy U.S. marshal retires after history-making career

Submitted Photo Aldean Lee, left, and her father, Ordean Lee, hold their retirement credentials, presented to them together by U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton at the agency’s headquarters in Arlington, Va., on May 19.

FARGO — It’s been a few years since Aldean Lee has been back to the city that houses her alma mater, but she’s been busy making history since then.

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The deputy U.S. marshal was the first female chief in the Central District of California, and ended her career in Washington, D.C., as assistant director for the Management Support Division before retiring at the end of May after more than 30 years of service.

She had some guidance along the way. Her father, Ordean Lee, retired from the U.S. Marshals Service after serving in Fargo for 20 years before retiring in 1991.

They are the first father-daughter marshals in U.S. history, overlapping in service for eight years.

“I was proud to be a deputy,” said Aldean Lee, who plans to relocate to Minnesota after retirement. “My father was a deputy, I was proud of him.”

She’s surprised she made it as high in the ranks as she did — assistant director is roughly analogous to a general in the U.S. military.

The LaMoure–born Lee attended Fargo South High and was posted in Los Angeles after graduating from North Dakota State University in 1983. The last two people she arrested were both wanted for double homicides, she recalled.

Some of her co-workers’ prejudices in the man’s world of the U.S. marshals were almost as bad as her experiences on the street, Lee said.

“You always had to prove yourself” in a way her male counterparts did not, Lee said. “I’ve had bosses tell me there’d never be a female chief.”

She said she’s never talked to her father about it because he’s not someone who thinks in terms of gender stereotypes.

“He’d end every conversation with ‘give ‘em hell,’” she said, laughing. “Like an Army buddy!”

Ordean Lee said he never tried to talk his daughter out of a career with the marshals.

“Aldean is disciplined and determined,” the former deputy marshal wrote in an email. “At an early age, she had decided on law enforcement and I supported that decision.”

Lee admitted there was one time when he was concerned for his daughter: during the 1992 Rodney King riots sparked by the controversial acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers accused of savagely beating suspect King.

Aldean Lee said it was a dark day for her, too. She remembers getting home from work and finding all shop windows smashed out in her neighborhood 30 miles from the city.

“That was probably the worst. We couldn’t do anything,” she said. “You could see fires all over the county … we lost complete control of the city.”

Almost as hard was the worry one of her deputies would get hurt.

That’s a constant worry on the job, she said, no matter whether you’re a man or a woman in charge.

“I’ve had some really good bosses, and some really bad bosses,” Aldean Lee said. “The good ones are the ones that worry.”

It’s a worry she’s happy to set aside after 30 years.

She’s got some pretty incredible experiences to balance it out. Among her favorites were working with Scotland Yard and Interpol tracking down international fugitives on the lam in Los Angeles.

She also oversaw the largest capital murder trial in U.S. history, which involved the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.

As she contemplates life at a Minnesota lakeside instead of on the streets of LA or the halls of Washington, she has some words of advice.

It’s a misperception that you have to be the biggest or the strongest to succeed as a U.S. marshal, she said. She’s not either of those things.

“It’s all mental toughness,” she said.