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The Cherokee Nation Remembers Mary Golda Ross, the First Woman Engineer for Lockheed

05/13/2008
Seal of the Cherokee Nation Cherokee Nation News Release
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May 13, 2008

The Cherokee Nation Remembers Mary Golda Ross, the First Woman Engineer for Lockheed

A love of math and of her cultural heritage led Mary Golda Ross, a Cherokee citizen, to a lifetime of success in aerospace technology as the first woman engineer for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company. A love of math and of her cultural heritage led Mary Golda Ross, a Cherokee citizen, to a lifetime of success in aerospace technology as the first woman engineer for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company.

TAHLEQUAH, OK — A love of math and of her cultural heritage led Mary Golda Ross, a Cherokee citizen, to a lifetime of success in aerospace technology as the first woman engineer for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company.

       “The accomplishments of Mary Golda Ross epitomize the Cherokee spirit,” said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. “This exceptional woman was and will continue to be a great example to each of us. Her ambition and successes exemplify the importance of education and are evidence of the doors that can be opened through higher learning.”

       A great-great granddaughter of Chief John Ross, Mary took pride in her heritage as a citizen of the Cherokee nation. She was born in 1908 and graduated from Northeastern State Teacher’s College when she was 18. Math was her favorite subject and Ross excelled in this area.

       In an interview Ross once said that she “…didn’t mind being the only girl in math class. Math, chemistry and physics were more fun to study than any other subject.”

       Upon graduation she taught school in Oklahoma for nine years. Ross then went on to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Washington D.C.

       When World War II broke out, Mary’s father encouraged her to move to California and look for work. Her search landed her at Lockheed, where she became an aerospace pioneer.

       According to Lockheed officials, her work was critical to the nation’s Agena space rocket project. In addition, Ross worked on some of the earliest concepts for a manned orbital space system and for flyby missions to Venus and Mars.

       When asked about her role at Lockheed, Mary stated that she had always wanted to be one of the women behind the first woman in space, and she was.

       The Agena recorded a number of space flight firsts. According to Lockheed literature, it was an essential step in the Apollo program to land on the moon, a major endeavor and critical leap for America’s space program.

       Mary attributed her successes to the rich heritage of the Cherokee people and the importance the tribe has emphasized on education.

       “I was brought up in the Cherokee tradition of equal education for boys and girls,” she said.

       Mary retired from Lockheed and lived out her life in Los Altos, California. She lived to be nearly 100 years-old and continued to serve an active role in several organizations up until her death. Mary always believed math to be important component of life and encouraged other young people to work toward degrees in the field.

       She offered this advice: “To function efficiently in today’s world, you need math. The world is so technical, if you plan to work in it, a math background will let you go farther and faster.” 

       Mary Golda Ross passed from this life on Tuesday, April 29. It is with sadness and a sense of pride that the Cherokee Nation honors the memory and accomplishments of Mary Golda Ross.