JP Rita Noel, GC's 1st elected Hispanic person, talks her rise in GC, says more bilingual comm. needed

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Grayson County's two female judges, JP Rita Noel, holding the paper, and County Court-at-Law #2 Judge Carol Siebman (courtesy photo).

This article has been updated for a correction. The Herald Democrat erred in stating Rital Noel's heritage. 

Growing up as one of nine children in a family of Mexican American decent, Grayson County Justice of the Peace Rita Noel learned early how to work with others to get things accomplished and that is something that she still does everyday in her job.

Noel, who was the county's first elected Hispanic American and Hispanic American woman, said she actually worked for a JP when she was in school and thought about being one back then.

But, that idea took a back seat as she finished her studies.

Rital Noel on her first Holy Communion

Then in 2005, she started her career with the county working at the Health Department. The bilingual Noel was then asked by then Sheriff Keith Gary to come work in the collections department at the Sheriff's Office.

"Then I was encouraged by one of my mentors Lt. Linda Draper to pursue a different avenue and attend the Texoma Police Academy as a result becoming a Deputy Sheriff," Noel said in an email recently.

She remained in that position for almost six years before another challenge came her way.

From left to right, Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith, Justice of the Peace Rita Noel, Judge Larry Phillips, Sheriff Tom Watt and Judge James Henderson appeared before commissioners Tuesday to seek approval of a grant submission for a mental health coordinator.

"My family, friends, coworkers and community members encouraged me to seek an elected position with the county. I envisioned running for a position where I could serve my entire community and open the doors for others like myself," she said.

She knew that doing so would be a big responsibility because she would be the first Hispanic woman to seek office in the county, but she wanted to do that so others would feel like they could come forward and seek those positions for themselves.

Rita Noel in her deputy sheriff uniform (courtesy photo)
Rita Noel said being out and about in the community is one of the things she loves about her job and here she is on a float in a local Christmas parade (courtesy photo).

She said some of the issues keeping more people like her from seeking those positions is a lack of available information in a form they can easily understand.

"We should be mindful and compassionate of our Hispanic population by providing a bilingual option to all documents, articles, school resources, volunteer forms, education and job opportunities etc. These should be offered from our cities, throughout our county just like the state does. By taking these steps I know that we together can thrive," she said. 

Noel picked the Justice of the Peace spot to seek her first elected office because, " I knew I could bring my year of professionalism and experience in law enforcement to an office that the entire community depends on."

Noel has been in that position in Precinct 4, which covers the southern part of the county, for 2 four-year terms now.   

"In my position, I get to work with the public whether it is mental health which has a bigger impact in our community (than she had previously imagined), and our county is currently getting a Mental Health Coordinator that will assist our offices," the email said. 

Rita Noel at the local Hispanic Heritage Festival (courtesy photo).
Justice of the Peace Rita Noel with other Grayson County JPs including from left to right, David Hawley, Mike Reeves and Larry Atherton. (courtesy photo).

Noel didn't point it out herself, but at a recent meeting of the Grayson County Commissioners Court, Sheriff Tom Watt and County Judge Bill Mager praised her for being the driving force behind the county applying for the grant that will pay for the mental health coordinator.

She also really enjoys working with families whether they are facing the loss of a loved one to death or issues with truancy. Noel said she likes knowing she can be resource and someone others can lean on when they are trying to get back on their feet from such losses and challenges.

"People always think that we only do marriages and that's funny. There is much more to the job including small claims, debt claims, evictions, citations, emergency detention orders, magistrates and emergency protective orders and finally, because we don't have medical examiner, we do the inquest to determine the cause of death in our county," she said.

 She credits her parents for instilling in her a passion for learning, a strong Catholic faith and a love of family which have been her foundation as she has tried to be a leader in a growing Hispanic community.  

The most recent information released for the 2020 Census showed of the 135,543 people in Grayson County, 14 percent identified as Hispanic which is also the largest minority group in the county. 

Rita Noel said one of her favorite parts about her job is working with young people and families. Here she is at the Grayson County Courthouse with a group of young people. (courtesy photo)