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AFRH Book Club on "Hidden Figures" Final Thoughts

My Book Club with the residents of The Armed Forces Retirement Home, Washington, D.C. has gratefully completed our second book, while being physically apart due to COVID-19. By emailing one another and engaging in phone conversations, eleven members of this remarkable group just wrapped up their writings and discussions for "Hidden Figures," an extraordinary book written by Margot Lee Shetterly.

We are looking forward to our next read, "Nathaniel's Nutmeg," written by Giles Milton as our Book Club continues to share their literary thoughts.

"Hidden Figures" Concluding Thoughts...

One could write volumes about the women who aspired to making a difference in the fields of engineering, aeronautics, and mathematics beginning in the early 1940's. And, that is exactly my impression of what I learned while reading, "Hidden Figures," written by Margot Lee Shetterly. Ms. Shetterly's research, style of writing, and first-hand experiences invited me to want to learn so much more about the women she introduced in her book.

As a "recap," it only seems fitting to bring to light just a few of the memorable qualities of the three main characters in "Hidden Figures," Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson.

Dorothy Vaughn's comment during an interview in 1992, in my view sums up the likes of this no nonsense, brilliant woman. Dorothy's words, "What I changed, I could; what I couldn't, I endured," reflects all aspects of her life. She set high expectations for her family and for her colleagues, yet with a sense of reason and a sense of compassion. When Dorothy retired in 1971, she never went back to Langley...she was never one to dwell on the past. Her greatest professional legacy was that of creating a pathway for a generation of younger women.

Mary Jackson wasn't wired to take the easy road or be satisfied with the status quo. This became vividly apparent when noted in "Hidden Figures," that Mary defended her analysis against John Becker, one of the world's top aerodynamicists. Mary Jackson was a tireless promoter of science and engineering as a meaningful and stable career choice. She was relentless in helping girls and women advance-this was the core of Mary's humanitarian spirit. Mary saw the relationships between women as a natural way to bridge racial differences.

Mary Jackson died in 2005. Gloria Champine, a colleague and dear friend of Mary's wrote a moving obituary that was published on the NASA website. "The peninsula recently lost a woman of courage, a most gracious heroine, Mary Winston Jackson. She was a role model of the highest character, and through her quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts managed to help many minorities and women reach their highest potential through promotions and movement into supervisory positions." Mary Winston Jackson loved her family; she was a devoted mother, grandmother, and wife.

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson's life was serendipitous-her life was seasoned by the subtleties of accident, harmony, favor, wisdom, and inevitability. Katherine's technical brilliance and her personal story shone like a shooting star. There is nothing more American than the story of a gifted young child who counted her way from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, to the stars. And along the way she equaled the prowess of an electric computer. She was charismatic, and self-possessed, cool under pressure, independent-minded, charming, and gracious. Katherine Johnson stood in the future for years, waiting for the rest of us to catch up. It was all of this and more that demonstrated to the world that extraordinary ordinary women were not to stand out because of their differences, yet to fit in because of their talents. Katherine Johnson was the most recognized of all the NASA human computers, black or white. Her awards for achievements are many. In 2015, President Obama awarded Katherine Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor that astronaut John Glen received in 2012.

Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Winston Jackson, and Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson will continue to enlighten and open doors for generations to come. Their own unique style of breaking boundaries and creating hope for women of all ages will remain their legacy.

Glenna C. Orr


From John Baker (US Army-Retired): Hidden Figures was inspiring because it was the story of the great contributions of African-American women to space exploration that needed to be told, and told it was in a wonderful style by the author. The book also paralleled the progress of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties, another story that needed to be told. Both of these sharings by the author are all the more impacting because they came out of Virginia, a leader of the Harry Byrd Sr.'s "massive resistance" movement in opposition to Brown vs Board of Education.


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