MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
The mid-50s did not offer many employment opportunities for women. So, a small town girl from Oklahoma was unsure what to expect when a recruiter from the Department of the Navy arrived looking for secretaries to work in Washington.
Norma J. Carlson, secretary, Office of Installation and Environment, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., will retire Monday after more than 42 years of federal service. “I am probably one of the last GS-6 secretaries left on this base. My job titles included secretary, stenographer and office automation.”
Carlson graduated in 1957 from Mulhall High School in Mulhall, Oklahoma. “I was valedictorian of my class of 13 students,” Carlson said with a hearty laugh.
Carlson arrived here in 1974 and says that she has always wanted to be a secretary and nothing else. She says she even played the role of a secretary in an office as a little girl, so when the opportunity to begin a career as one came while attending business school, she took it.
“I started working here at motor transport and was known as ‘Miss Motor T’. I worked there for six years and just loved it. But, I had to eventually go to the facilities and services division office in 1980.
When asked what brought her to Albany from Oklahoma, she laughed and said, “I went around the world to get here. Me and three other girls from Oklahoma rode a Greyhound bus to Washington to start our new jobs in May 1958. I started work at what is now called Naval Facilities Command, but back then it was called Bureau of Yards and Docks. It was an old building built during World War II and was located right in front of Arlington cemetery,” Carlson said.
“We got to go outside to stand and wave when John Foster Dulles, former U.S. Secretary of State under President Dwight Eisenhower, died and again when Vice-President Richard Nixon came back from South America, where the protesters threw tomatoes at him.” Carlson recalled.
Carlson said she ended up marrying a sailor in 1959 and their first duty station was Port Lyauti, Morocco. Her son, Douglas, was born there. From there, they went to Maryland, Panama Canal Zone, Memphis, Tenn., and then they arrived at the Naval Air Station here in Albany.
“In 1958, when I got ready to go to Washington, my brother told me to stay away from soldiers because he had been in the Army. My brother-in-law said to stay away from sailors because he had been in the Navy and my mama said to stay away from men. But, I didn’t listen,” Carlson said laughing. “We would have been married 50 years this year, but he died of cancer in 1999 after 40 years of marriage. He was retired from the Navy and retired again from here as the housing inspector.”
Carlson said she has always been a secretary because that is what she always wanted to be. “I wanted to be happy in my job and wasn’t interested in climbing that ladder. I was happy right where I was. When you work in facilities there is never a dull moment and I have always loved my job. I have had 16 different directors and nine were colonels.”
“I remember years ago while working for my former boss, Mr. Gil Ward, when people would come into the office to ask him questions, he would say, ask Norma, this is her building. When I first went to work for I&E, I thought it would be boring working with plumbers and electricians, but it was like any job, once you know what’s going on, it’s interesting,” Carlson said.
Carlson added that one of her favorite memories working here is the long running joke that she planted Dubber’s Oak and Mike Elliott, fleet support manager, GME, Logistics Support Division, MCLB Albany, dug the hole. “I have had a lot of great co-workers, interesting bosses and many adopted Marines and daughters here. Three people I will miss the most here are Mary Waters, Debbie Haguewood and one of my adopted sons, Kitras Thomas,” she said.
Thomas, training instructor, Garrison Mobile Equipment, simply said that Norma is the “best mother in the world.”
Elliott said, “Norma is one-of-a-kind and knew everyone and everything about this base. We all called her for phone numbers, building numbers, order numbers and anything else we needed to know. Norma is extraordinary and will truly be missed.”
“I thought it would be hard to walk away, but I’ve been off for several weeks with a little heart trouble, but I told a few people that I was practicing for retirement. It’s just a little leaky valve, but I’ll be OK,” said Carlson.
“My daddy lived to be 98 and my brother, who is 87 now, had his valve replaced in 1984,” she said.
Carlson said that after retiring next week, she plans to travel. Her first stop will be Oklahoma to see her niece, then on to South Dakota to visit her late husband’s family. After that, she will sit down and rest.
“If I get bored, I want to volunteer at the hospital here. I just don’t understand how people can retire from here and you never see them again. But you’re going to see me. I go to church here at the chapel and will come by occasionally to visit and go to the commissary, but only when I want to,” she said.
Carlson had a few words of wisdom to share with those she leaves behind. “You have got to make up your mind if you want to be happy or live a stressful life. I chose to be happy.”