February 16, 2017
What path lead you to working on the Mississippi River?
It was divine intervention for sure. My whole career was divine intervention. When I came out of Christian Brothers University in 1982, there was a recession in the country, so they weren’t hiring a lot of civil engineers to build things. I was interviewing with the Air Force when I remembered that someone had asked me why I hadn’t considered the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
I had no idea what they do. Just after taking the test to become an officer with the Air Force, I noticed the USACE on the bulletin boards so I went up to the personnel office and I asked them if they were hiring civil engineers. They asked me if I had a degree and I said, “Yeah!” I was able to meet the second in command for human resources, and he asked if I could put the Air Force on hold. It worked out. I was able to stay in Memphis and make more money. That’s how it started and I stayed with the USACE my entire career.
How would you describe yourself?
I’d describe myself as a workaholic, a perfectionist who is caring, and a giver of not only my talent but my time and resources as well. I like things decent and in order.
How would others describe you?
They would say I’m a workaholic, and they would say I’m probably a worry wart. They would say that I like things to be a success and to go off without a hitch. I think they would say I’m a giver as well.
Are you a native Memphian?
Proudly, yes. I grew up in Orange Mound. I have lived in Raleigh, Fox Meadows, and now I’m in the Cherokee area of Memphis.
What exactly is the United States Army Corps of Engineers?
We consider ourselves to be the nation’s engineers. USACE helps out in time of peace and in times of war. We’re not only located in the United States, but we also have offices throughout the world. We’re especially focused on water resources projects. We work not only with the navigation aspect, primarily commerce traffic that moves up and down the river, but also with reducing the impacts of floods along the rivers in the United States. In addition to navigation and flood damage reduction, we also are environmental stewards, protecting the nation’s environment and returning areas to what they were before development.
We also help in times of war. They’re over in Afghanistan as we speak working on rebuilding infrastructure. We’re helping with everything from bridges, pipelines, hospitals, schools, you name it… The same was true during the war in Iraq. Even going back to George Washington days, when the nation needed a bridge built before times of war, the USACE was on the ground making sure the bridge was built.
The USACE is now getting into water supply. In eastern Arkansas where the farmers have farmland for rice fields, the aquifer is pretty drained. There is not enough water to supply the fields. So we have a couple of major projects where we are building canals and pumping stations and other solutions to try to get more water to those areas for the rice farmers. Water supply is not one of our major missions but we’re trying to get it added as a major mission because it’s needed. Many municipalities get their water supply from the drinking water that we have in Memphis. However, there are other places where the aquifer is not that plentiful, and we have to somehow get the water to those places.
How did your work with US Army Corps of Engineers affect your perception of Memphis?
It helped me appreciate Memphis even more, especially the Mississippi River. It’s a valuable natural resource that we have here in our city. Also, working for the USACE, I was able to get out of the office to see other streams and rivers in Memphis like the Wolf River and Nonconnah Creek. All of them play a vital role just as the Mississippi River does.
Of course, the Mississippi River is even more vital because of the commerce traffic.
Especially now with the focus on intermodal, we have FedEx, the airport, and commerce and delivery vehicles, but we also have a major artery where commerce is happening up and down the river. This ties into the inter modal system directly as the boats transport cargo that is put on trains, which is then moved to trucks, etc.
What were your roles with the US Army Corps of Engineers?
I worked 33 years for the USACE Memphis office. I was blessed to come in at the lowest level an engineer can come in as an intern fresh out of college. I went from being an intern to serving as the highest ranking civilian on a couple of temporary occasions. That is not achieved too often. For the majority of my career, I served as deputy of project management. I was the first African American female and the first female to serve as that capacity in Memphis. I worked as a design engineer early in my career, and I was able to work as a planner and a project manager. I was also able to serve in what would be considered executive level positions on a number of occasions.
I was blessed to work on the Memphis Metropolitan Project: a five county study area that included Shelby, Tipton, Fayette, and Desoto. During that Memphis Metro Project we condudcted studies in Germantown, Millington, Shelby County and other places within the region. That was one of the areas of my career of which that I was very proud, because I was able to work and conduct studies in the city that I actually lived in.
I worked in the Memphis metro area, so not all of my career was on the Mississippi River. I worked primarily on tributaries in Arkansas and West Tennessee that we consider major water ways like the St. Francis River, Wolf River, Nonconnah Creek, and Horn Lake Creek. It wasn’t until the last four years that I directly worked on the Mississippi River itself. It was a whole new educational experience for me to see exactly how valuable it is.
We had a great team of engineers and program analysts who represented places from St. Louis to New Orleans and were very knowledgeable about the river. During that time, I was able to get more familiar with all the work the USACE does on the river for protection and navigation. One of the most impactful things about the river is that although we can try to keep it in place, as we found in the 2011, it will do what it wants to do. I witnessed one of the highest floods on record as well as one of the lowest droughts the very next year. Doing the work that we normally do and repairing damages after a flood in the midst of a drought was challenging, but it worked out big time. And I feel blessed to have done this work.
What are you involved in since being retirement?
I am a community volunteer for various engineering organizations: NESBE, Engineers Club of Memphis, Memphis Joint Engineers Council, and Society of Women Engineers. I’m either on the board or serve as an advisor for each. We’re pushing STEM and trying to make sure that kids realize it’s a valuable field. I mentor students myself and help to pair students with mentors. I’m also very active with my church serving as a trustee and working on the finance committee; that keeps me pretty busy as well.
With the Shelby County Chapter of The Links, Inc., I’m over national trends and services as well as a program that is a tool for women’s empowerment. The program involves ladies from the 38126 and 38106 codes. We try to help them in any way that we can. The focus is not limited to professional development. We also focus on physical and mental health.
What is your favorite riverfront activity?
My favorite activity is just enjoying the elements while walking along the river in Tom Lee Park and watching the river, its traffic, and people enjoy themselves. If there is a good concert, I’d enjoy coming on down to for that as well.
Funny story: The USACE has two public meetings per year. They are held on the Motor Vessel Mississippi while in dock at Beale Street Landing. I’m embarrassed to say that a couple of years ago during one of those meetings I had a hard time paying attention. It was a beautiful day and I couldn’t help but watch the kids on the slopes of Island Play and people just walking past and enjoying the riverfront. I just wanted to be out there with them.
What are your hopes for the relationship between Memphis and the riverfront?
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed being around water; it’s calming for me. I As far as the riverfront we need to have a win-win situation where we preserve some of the history like the cobblestones and preserve any protective works while at the same time finding other opportunities for entertainment and restaurants. Although Mud Island River Park has outdoor concerts, more wouldn’t hurt. We need more to do on the river.
You want to have something for the people in the suburbs to come back downtown every now and then. We have a valuable resource a valuable asset that we need to take full advantage of. Other cities have.
Describe downtown Memphis in three words.
Exiting, vibrant, and upcoming