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Obituary: Captain Mary E. McWilliams, USCGR Ret.

Captain Mary E. McWilliams, USCGR Ret.

A native of Brooklyn, Captain Mary E. McWilliams, of Great Neck, served on active duty in the US Coast Guard for two years during WWII, performing duties in the Intelligence and Legal Divisions in Washington, DC, and Cleveland, OH. Returing to school after the war, she completed work for a BA from Brooklyn College (1949) and an MA from Teachers College, Columbia University (1950). Her teaching career includes service in the elementary and secondary schools of New York City and 21 years in the Great Neck public schools, from which she retired in 1975.

Paralleling her teaching career, Captain McWilliams was continuously assigned to Coast Guard Reserve units in the New York area from 1951 until her retirement in 1979. Because of the policy restrictions on assignment of women during those years, her duties were mainly administrative. In 1971 she was appointed commanding officer of a Reserve unit – a first for women in the Coast Guard. As a result of both internal and external pressures, the Coast Guard began examining its traditional policies concerning enlistment and commissioning of women, and, in 1972, established an indoctrination school for women petty officers at Yorktown, VA, and appointed Captain McWilliams commanding officer. In 1973, following House of Representatives hearings, at which Captain McWilliams testified, prior restrictions concerning the enlistment and commissioning of women in the Coast Guard were removed.

Additional assignments include service as the Women’s Program advisor at the US Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, as that academy integrated its student body (1974-76); summer session at the US Coast Guard Academy, New London, CT (1977); Coast Guard representatives to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (197-80). In 1980 she was appointed by the Carter Administration to a three-year term on the DACOWITS. She has twice been awarded the Coast Guard Commendation Medal.

An activist in teacher unionism, Captain McWilliams was a charter member of the Retired Educators Chapter of the Great Neck Teachers Association, served on the New York State United Teachers Retiree Organizing Committee, the Retiree Advisory Committee and was currently a delegate to both the State and National (AFT) governing bodies. Other professional organization affiliations include: Reserve Officers Association of the US (NY State president in 1975) and the Retired Officers Association.

Captain McWilliams also taught for the Nassau County Literacy Volunteers, was a member of North Hempstead’s Committee on Family Violence, participated in a Habitat for Humanity project (building a house in Belfast, Northern Ireland) and she sold ads for the journal of the Class of ’49, Brooklyn College.

Captain McWilliams died on March 1, 2010.