I was born in the small, conservative, southern town of Troy, North Carolina in 1933. My curiosity as to what was on the other side of the mountain drove me to become a nurse so I could enter the military as an officer. I graduated from nursing school at Charlotte Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in 1954. I entered the Air Force Nurse Corps in July 1956 as a tribute to my brother who was a Navy pilot killed during WWII.
After my first assignment at Mather AFB in Sacramento, California, I was assigned to duty at Mildenhall, England. I was the clinic supervisor with three doctors and 18 corpsmen— a position usually given to higher-ranking officers. After returning to the States in 1958, I remained in the AF Reserve until my unit was deleted. After 18 years in the Air Force, I transitioned to the Army National Guard’s 175th Medical Group, later called the Medical Brigade. I served over 19 years as the Chief Nurse for the Medical Brigade including three years as the Army National Guard Chief Nurse at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. During my military career, I received many awards, the highest of which was the Medal of Medical Merit.
When I retired my desire to give back included volunteering to prepare meals for the homeless and serving in PFLAG (Parents and Friends of the LGBT community). I am privileged to work as a Hospice volunteer in the “We Honor Veterans” program. In uniform, I visit Veterans who are fighting their most difficult battle—that of life and death. I present them with an American flag, a flag pin, and a personalized certificate of appreciation for their military service. Recently, I was honored to receive the National Hospice “Volunteer of the Year” award for this work.
When entering the military I was forced to lie on the forms that asked about homosexuality. I felt strongly that being a lesbian should not prevent me from serving my country and doing my job. Much has changed. In 2011 the crippling policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, ending the institutionalized discrimination that unjustly targeted LGBTQ members of the military who now can serve our country with pride and honor.
I am currently enjoying life with my wonderful wife, Barbara Brass. She has been my strongest support for thirty-two years.
We met Col. Patsy Thompson in the beautifully renovated 1906 home she shares with her wife, Barbara. Honoring her dedication to fellow veterans, we photographed Patsy in her uniform as she prepares to visit the men and women served by Sutter Care at Home, a participant in the We Honor Veterans program. “I feel these veterans, many alone without family, deserve to be recognized. They need to know someone cares enough to honor their service to our country. I’ve been doing this for several years. It’s one of the most important acts I can do for my fellow servicemen and women.”
Patsy asked to be photographed in her favorite room, filled with mementos of her military service, awards received for her volunteer work, and reminders of her active lifestyle. A photograph of Col. Thompson when she first joined the military is seen leaning against the table to her lower right. The photo above is of Barbara, a cherished reminder of the love they’ve shared for over thirty years. The shadow box visible behind her holds medals and ribbons received from her distinguished thirty-seven-year military career. In front of Patsy is a certificate she presents to veterans in appreciation of their service to our country. Seated, wearing her Medal of Medical Merit, Col. Patsy Thompson personifies the pride and tradition of “service before self.”
Photo by James R. Morrison Photography