‘It’s a gift’: Mother-daughter trio make memories working together at SCDPS | SCDPS Skip to main content
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‘It’s a gift’: Mother-daughter trio make memories working together at SCDPS

Sun, 05/12/2024

DPS mother's

If Kristi Hill or Kathryn Catoe ever want a quick chat, a lunchtime laugh, or some comforting advice that only their mother can offer, a short walk or elevator ride is all that separates them.

Hill and Catoe work in the SC Department of Public Safety’s Blythewood headquarters, along with their mother, Debbie Gillis. With more than 300 employees housed at the Blythewood headquarters, it is large enough that Gillis and her daughters each work in separate divisions, but small enough that they can still see each other during the day.

“Life gets busy, and sometimes you don’t get to see each other as much as you’d like to,” said Hill, Program Coordinator for the Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs. “It’s another way to get to see each other.”

When Debbie Gillis retired after putting in 40 years at Springs Industries in Lancaster, she wanted “a little change” and accepted an Executive Assistant position for the SC Highway Patrol Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel. She planned to stay three or four years, but 15 years later, she still enjoys her work — and now has the added bonus of being able to see her daughters every day.

“When I worked at Springs, I worked with my mom, my dad, my sister, and Kristi,” Gillis said. “It’s really good to look back at that. My mom and sister were at one end of the building and I was at another. My dad was the security guard, and Kristi was an intern.”

Catoe, who previously worked as a front office receptionist and secretary for a local high school, was looking through job openings at DPS and found a position her mother wasn’t even aware of, in the Highway Patrol’s Office of Promotion Policy Administration. Her first day was in January 2022.

“With Mama working here, I knew the feel, the atmosphere around here,” Catoe said. “I knew how much she enjoyed it, and if she liked it, then it would have to be a good place to work.” 

Then, in October 2023, having gotten the last of her five children through high school, Hill decided it was time to focus on a career change.

“I saw the job opportunity, and I had grant management experience in the past, so I decided to apply for a position with the Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs,” she said.

As the matriarch of the family, Gillis has relocated closer to her daughters after her own parents passed away.

“We were all together at a family get-together, and Mama said, ‘I have an announcement; I bought a house,’” Catoe recalled. “And we were like, ‘Where?’ And she says, ‘Pretty much in your backyard — one street over.’”

Gillis wasn’t sure if her daughters would be happy, but Hill said they were thrilled to have their mother so close to them.

Catoe says she and her sister experienced your typical sibling squabbles, but eventually, they grew out of it. “It shifted, probably when I hit about middle school age,” she said.

She recalled trying out for the cheerleader squad in middle school. Her sister, who was in high school at the time, came to her school and plugged in a curling iron in the hallway to make sure her younger sister had fresh curls for her tryout.

“Kristi turned into more of a mother figure to me, due to the age gap,” says Catoe.

And it’s that devotion and love for family, that’s been handed down from each generation. Gillis said she learned the importance of family, faith, and morals from her mother, and she tried to pass that down to her own daughters.

“I was raised with a strong love for family,” she said. “My mom and dad had a strong work ethic, and I do think we passed that down.”

Hill and Catoe concurred. They are thankful to have a mother who was and is so involved in their lives.

“Any event we had growing up, or any problem we had, we could always count on her to be there,” Catoe said. “When I look back at times I struggled or things I went through, that’s the common factor: Mama was always there. That’s what I want my kids to be able to look back and say, ‘Well, things may not have gone how I planned, but my mama was there in all of it.’”

For Catoe, having her mother and sister nearby was helpful when she became a mother for the first time.

“Mama and Kristi stepped up and helped with any issues I would have,” she said. “If I had a medical question, I could always call them. They dropped whatever they were doing at any time to come and help me.”

Having raised five children, Hill is thankful for her mother’s example.

“I learned how to be a working mom,” Hill said. “I knew that I wanted a career, but I also knew I wanted to be able to focus on my family and my children. I wanted something that would allow me that balance, and I learned that from her.”

“One thing that my Mom always did while we were growing up was that she made family dinners a priority,” Hill said. As I got older and looked back on that, I realized how important that was in keeping our family connected.  The food was always good, but it wasn’t always about that.  It was a time that was set aside to have meaningful conversations and build family relationships.  That was especially important as we became teenagers.  I think this is one thing that made our family so close, and it is something I am proud to pass down to my children.  I now know that it couldn’t have been easy for her to do this as a working Mom, but she always prioritized that family time.  I appreciate it so much now.”

Through the trials and celebrations of motherhood, the three have been there for each other like best friends. They have made their share of memories along the way, whether in a lunchtime laugh at the office, singing along at one of many Oak Ridge Boys concerts they’ve attended, or family get-togethers.

“We are able to have an experience a lot of people don’t get,” Catoe said of working at the same place as her mother and sister. “I don’t know when Mama will retire, but inevitably, there will come a day when we will be here at work and she will not. Looking back on this time, I try to stop and enjoy the moment. We’re going to look back, and these are going to be the days that we were all together. These are the memories that a lot of people don’t get a chance to make.

“It’s a very special time I try not to take for granted,” she continued. “It’s a gift. It really is.”

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