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Sally Watlington

BA 1960, Liberal Arts; MS 1970, Naval Postgraduate School

Chairman of Board, Western IN Region, Franciscan Alliance, Lafayette, IN

In 1983, Sally Watlington finished 23 years of service in the United States Navy, retiring as a Captain. Her final Navy assignment was Deputy Director, Total Force Planning, Training and Education in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, DC.

But her naval retirement was just the beginning of an entirely new career. Settling near her alma mater, Watlington has dedicated her past 30 years to volunteering across Greater Lafayette—so much so, that it’s hard to imagine a community member her efforts haven’t touched. Her work with the Riggs Community Health Center, YWCA, Community Foundation, United Way, Red Cross, Bauer Family Resource Center, Lafayette Parks Department, Westminster Village, and Purdue Alumni Association (and that’s just a partial list) has earned her statewide accolades. She won the Distinguished Hoosier Award in 2007, and has been named a Sagamore of the Wabash twice.

So it’s no surprise that the career moments she remembers most involve both naval greats and a defining moment in the Washington, DC community.

“From 1966 to 1969, I served as the Social and Appointments Secretary for the Chief of Naval Operations. My office was located such that I could see the Lincoln Memorial all the way to the Capitol,” she recalls. “During that time in the Pentagon, I was privileged to meet many notables in American history such as Admiral Hyman Rickover, the ‘father of our nuclear navy’; all of the living former Chiefs of Naval Operations such as Admiral Arleigh Burke, Admiral James Carney, and Admiral David McDonald; Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin; all of the Navy astronauts who ‘flew’ during that time; and Senator John McCain’s father, Admiral John S. McCain.”

During that time, she also remembers how Washington, DC burned after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. “A curfew of 7 p.m. was called. I departed the Pentagon after 7 p.m., headed up Rock Creek Parkway, and was nearly pulled over by local law enforcement. I was saved by the fact that I was in uniform—and my uniform hat was identical to those worn by women in DC law enforcement. The officers in the patrol car simply waved at me and I continued on, the only vehicle on the Parkway until the Massachusetts Avenue exit.”

Purdue Influences

The people most influential in my life at Purdue were history professor Dr. Victor Albjerg and member of the Dean of Women’s office Dr. Marguerite Albjerg. Throughout my time at Purdue, I was influenced by women in the Dean of Women’s office: Helen B. Schleman, Beverley Stone, and Barbara Cook. It was because of Schleman’s and Stone’s influence that I joined the Navy in 1960. (Editor’s note: In the photo above, Watlington is holding a program related to another influential Dean of Women: Dorothy Stratton. When the U.S. Coast Guard named a cutter after Stratton, who directed the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard during World War II, Watlington attended the ceremony.)

Purdue Memories

Members of Mortar Board and Gold Peppers were given a ride to Ross Ade stadium in the back of the Boilermaker Special at the time when the Special could enter the stadium on the track and deposit us at our section on the east side of the stadium.

Purdue Now

Purdue has grown monumentally since I arrived on campus in 1956, when the ratio of men to women was 5 to 1. The implementation of Title IX and Purdue’s efforts to ensure that women athletes had a fair shot at receiving scholarships and competing with their peers in other high quality colleges and universities stands out in my mind. There was a time when I had season tickets to virtually all women’s sporting events and served on the boards of the women’s basketball and volleyball booster clubs. Additionally I served as the MC at the Women’s Basketball Banquet for 21 years. Slowly but surely, the venues for women’s sports have been upgraded or constructed from scratch, which has made a great statement about the University’s support of women.

Greatest Achievement

My greatest achievement was to serve as the Chair of the Community Health Clinic (CHC) Task Force in 1995, leading to being board president and co-chair of the fundraising campaign to raise funds for a new CHC facility. This effort was accomplished with the opening of a 19,000–square foot single-story building in May 1998 to serve the uninsured and underinsured in the Greater Lafayette and Tippecanoe community. This effort was accomplished with no debt incurred and contributions from 592 individuals, governmental entities, and businesses.

Person I Admire

I cannot think of just one person. I admire many people who are working to make life a bit better for many, such as Michelle Obama and her work with children to teach them about nutrition; Hillary Clinton for her worldwide campaign for women; and Sheila Klinker, right here in Lafayette, for her ability to work for the community and work with those in the other political party.

Idea of Perfect Happiness

Working in my gardens and enjoying what the good earth provides.

What I’m Reading

I’m not so much into reading books, because my eyesight is still undergoing correction after cataract surgery. However, I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about the Affordable Care Act and its impact on community health centers in general and Riggs CHC specifically.

Profession I’d Like to Try

I would never have traded in my 23 ½ years in the United States Navy and 30 years as a community volunteer for any other jobs or professions, so I have not thought about attempting anything else. I’ve been perfectly happy doing just what I am doing now—serving as a community volunteer!