In her own words...


"I will always have a great appreciation for what the FAA gave me even if they don’t have an appreciation for what I tried to give them."

I was born September 5, 1956.  My mother was born and raised in North Carolina where she also completed college, majoring in English.  My father was born and raised in Germany where he fought as a soldier in the German army during WWII.  He was held captive by the Americans, but it is America he has come to love.  My parents met and married in Tuebingen, Germany in 1951.  My mother was teaching English in France and my father was in Germany attending law school when they were introduced by friends.  I was born in Charlottesville, VA where my father was attending law school at the University of Virginia.  During this time period my father became an American citizen.  After graduation he worked for Caribbean Cruise Lines and later went to work for the U.S. Department of Commerce.  This took us back to Germany where I was raised.  I still remember traveling on that old airplane that took forever to cross the Atlantic every time we came to the US to visit my Mom’s family.  We also lived for several years in Colombia and Venezuela, surviving a terrible earthquake that eventually forced us to move back to Germany.  My parents gave me, my three sisters, and one brother the best life a child could imagine.  They were and still are my best friends.  Our house was the one everyone came to, there was always something going on and Mom and Dad were a part of it.  What a wonderful world we would have if everyone was raised as we were.  My Dad has the most fascinating stories due to his war experiences, but my Mom is strong beyond belief.

            I finished high school in Germany and immediately began working for the federal government.  I worked as a visa clerk at the American Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany.  I left Germany in 1979 to work in San Francisco for the Dept. of Agriculture, then on to El Paso to work for the Dept. of Defense and just after the controller’s strike in 1981 I took a test and applied for a job as an air traffic controller with the FAA.  I was hired in August of 1982 and went to Oklahoma City, OK for training for 4 months.  After the training I began my job in El Paso.  I was thrilled with my job but somewhat apprehensive as this was all new territory for me.  Having grown up traveling all over the world I was interested in aviation but knew nothing about this particular job.  To make matters worse, I was the first female controller to work at El Paso and every local pilot knew I was new.  The pilots were not used to speaking with a female controller but for the most part everyone accepted me.  There was the occasional exception.  One of the pilots would never respond to my directions, he would comply, but would never respond.  It seemed as if he didn’t care for having me tell him what to do, until one day he came in with an emergency and I was the one working the tower position. This time he would have to respond to me, as I needed to find out what was wrong.  He crash-landed but did little damage to himself and the airplane.  He visited the tower the next day and apologized for his past behavior.  We were best of buds after that.  Another pilot decided that he would make his feelings known over the frequency.  It occurred right after I issued my first radar vector to an aircraft, the pilot was angry that I had vectored him to follow traffic and questioned what I was doing.  My male instructor responded and the pilot said:  “thank goodness someone got that dumb broad out of there”.  It made for a good laugh and I was leading the laughter, as he was correct, I was trying to vector his jet to follow a very slow Cessna and it would never have worked.  He could have easily passed that Cessna and been on the ramp before the Cessna landed.  When I certified as a controller at El Paso, the local news came out to the tower to interview me.  I was quite embarrassed over the attention as I felt that I had not done anything any more special than the others I was in training with, but it was news to them as no female had ever been certified as an air traffic controller at El Paso.  The manager politely told me I had to do the interview.  I would have done anything I was told as I was thrilled to actually be the real deal.  I was now a certified air traffic controller.  I did not stay in El Paso long as I applied for and was selected for a position at DFW.  I began working at DFW in September of 1984.  When I got to DFW I started in the Tower but later moved downstairs to work in the TRACON (radar room).  Moving to the TRACON gave me the best gift of all and that was the chance to meet my husband, Gary.  Without Gary’s strength and courage I would never have survived my career.  He has not tired of listening and most of all giving me guidance that is always right on track.  I wouldn’t trade him for the world.  Everyone said there was no way we would survive working together every day.  We not only survived, we thrived.  I was certified on all positions in February of 1986.  In doing so I became the first female controller to certify at DFW TRACON, as well.

Career highlights

early career
Not unlike most air traffic controllers I have worked many aircraft in distress, several that have crashed and many under unusual situations.  I helped a pilot recover after being inverted in the clouds and descending rapidly towards the ground.  He was caught in the clouds unable to navigate.  A Southwest airlines pilot flew close to the aircraft and assisted in helping the aircraft out of the clouds.  I also did dumb things like acknowledge the fact a tomahawk had lost an engine, as he put it, but never having worked a tomahawk nor being familiar with one I didn’t realize he only had one engine.  I recovered nicely and my lack of knowledge didn’t really affect my reactions, but I felt terrible afterwards.  The pilot landed the aircraft safely on a freeway.  The very first jet I cleared to land ran off the runway, but everyone survived.  I worked a fighter jet off the old Navy Dallas Air Station that was experiencing flight control problems.  He needed vectors to an uninhabited area in the metroplex so that he could ditch the aircraft.  Fortunately he regained control just prior to ejecting.  I worked a flight that was an emergency over New Mexico and the pilot could only understand German.  Albuquerque Center asked me to help and the aircraft landed safely.  The pilot had been trained to use English on the frequency but he was so scared if I spoke to him in English he would not respond, if I used German he followed my instructions.  I worked the first aircraft into the airspace after 9/11, boy was I happy to have everything back to normal.  That silence during those few days when no one was flying was deafening.  It was wonderful to see our country starting to rebound.   

            During the years that I worked at DFW I was encouraged to bid on a supervisor’s position but I felt as if I needed more time working as a controller before I could feel comfortable being a supervisor.  After much encouragement in August of 1985 I decided to bid on a temporary supervisor’s detail and was selected.  This detail was for 120 days only and I figured it would give me a chance to decide if I was ready to do the job permanently.  I bid on the next one-year temporary slot and was selected in March of 1997.  The rest is history, my career effectively ended the next year when I blew the whistle on safety concerns I could not ignore.  I have been asked to speak about my experiences at several events including a meeting for the entire staff of attorneys with the OSC, a women’s leadership conference (rather interesting as I am a tomboy at heart) held at George Washington University’s Mt. Vernon campus, and most recently at a conference for managers in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  A year ago I was asked by a former supervisor at DFW TRACON to work with a group redesigning the tower training course taught at the academy in Oklahoma City for all newly hired air traffic tower controllers.  I have been completely ostracized at work so the opportunity to participate in this project was very rewarding.  Over the years I have overseen the training, as a supervisor, or trained as a controller, at least 30 air traffic controllers at DFW Tower or in the TRACON.  I enjoyed that part of my job as much as any part.

            During my time in the FAA I have received numerous awards.  From my hiring until I blew the whistle, a span of approximately 16 years, I received over 45 awards, most of which were individual awards for special achievements.  During the remainder of my career, a span of 12 years, I received one additional individual award.

           I will always have a great appreciation for what the FAA gave me even if they don’t have an appreciation for what I tried to give them.