Business & Leadership Behaviors Random Thoughts

Another “Legend” Passes – The Katherine Johnson Story

On February 24th, Katherine Johnson died at the age of 101.

I would not have even heard about Ms. Johnson if it hadn’t been for the movies and a story about space.  A few years back a friend recommended the movie Hidden Figures thinking I would appreciate it because of my interest in space exploration.   Fun Fact: United Space Alliance at Kennedy Space Center was our company’s first customer!

Watching the movie exposed a number of stereotypes from the ’60s.  The images of large rows of desks hosting a sea of white-collared white men (with narrow ties!) doing office work was enlightening and a little scary.  Add to that image white women in their administrative support positions and an overall lack of African Americans present – or any ethnicity for that matter.

But one of the strongest pulls for me was the use of “humans” as computers.  This was a completely new concept to me.  My early career was in the sale of computers after I graduated from college.  I knew that the earliest use for computers was in faster math calculations, but I didn’t understand the human role in providing this for NASA in the early days.

Ms. Johnson played a pivotal role in her work for NASA.  She had direct involvement and contributed in many areas to make NASA (and the U.S.) successful.  She not only broke down barriers for African Americans, but she also did so for women.  The recognition of her great role in the U.S. was provided in 2015 when President Obama awarded her The Presidential Medal of Freedom – our nation’s highest civilian award.

The movie Hidden Figures was actually based on a book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.  We all owe a lot to those that came before us like Katherine Johnson and other everyday folks (last week’s story on another – Harriet Tubman).  When viewing the movie, one of our employees had a similar experience in meeting “an everyday contributor” who worked on the actual Mercury space capsule.  You can read about that experience here.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked about people who are now famous, but who really just set out to make a difference.  Their contributions have had profound impacts – but we don’t always know or see our own.

Sometime’s our efforts have immediate and recognizable results and some may show up long after we’re gone – parenting is an excellent example.  As long as we focus on the right attitude and effort we will make an impact.

Thank you, Katherine, for your contributions, leadership, and life!