Retiring from the United States Navy as a commander in 1985 makes Carolina Clair Wylie ’63 a pioneer. When American women were advocating for workplace equity, she was finding her niche in the Navy, where equal pay for equal work was an established principle.
“Leadership skills I learned at Oswego prepared me,” Wylie said. She was president of Alpha Epsilon and Inter-Sorority Council and worked on the orientation committee. She won the outstanding speaker award at a debate club competition.
“I knew, then, that I could do anything,” she said. “By graduation, I knew how to establish a collegial working environment and get the job done. That served me well in my 20-year Naval career.”
Wylie said Oswego professors were always accessible.
“Dr. Paul Goodwin and his wife, Lois ’54, not only invited me into their home, but also encouraged me as I prepared for the GREs,” she said. “Professors steered me to political science, which led to government, which led to the military.”
After Oswego and graduate work at St. John’s University, Wylie went to the nation’s capital.
“Women in uniform were getting into meetings I didn’t have access to; they were getting ahead,” she said. “I signed up for the Navy and hit the ground running.”
Assignments took Wylie from the Pentagon’s top-secret communications office, to the Naval Justice School, to the United States Senate, as the first female Navy liaison officer. In the 1970s, she went from the New York recruiting district to the personal staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, in the Pentagon, to a year at the Naval War College, then to London, as the first woman flag secretary to the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe.
She came back to the Pentagon, yet again, as manpower and healthcare analyst to the Secretary of the Navy, in the Office of Program Appraisal, prior to her final assignment as the only female faculty member at the Armed Forces Staff College.
Wylie, of Virginia, was married to a retired Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps captain, the late Capt. Peter Wylie, and is the mother of Peter, who works in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, and Jamie, a playwright, who works in marketing at Stanbridge College in Irvine, Calif.
“I promised my children I’d retire as soon as I was eligible,” Wylie said. “I left on Halloween—with the rest of the witches.” She placed a broom, instead of her car, in her honorary final-day parking spot.
“In the Navy, I stood on the shoulders of women who could only aspire to be mid-grade officers,” she said. “Now, we have multiple flag officers, including our first four-star.”
Wylie lists her accomplishments as having recruited one of the first women aviators, mentored one of the first women at the Naval Academy and recruited the first African-American woman Navy flag officer.
“For me,” Wylie said, “success was based on whether I had done well enough that the command wanted another woman to replace me.”
— Linda Loomis ’90 M’97
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