As the daughter of a career Navy man, Megan Murray MacPherson didn’t picture herself in the Navy, but her mother did. “She said, ‘Look, you can get a college scholarship,’ as she showed me a brochure she’d picked up at the commissary,” MacPherson said.
“I told her, ‘but then I’d have to join the Navy, mom.’”
“If you get a scholarship, you could just try it for a year and then walk away if it’s not the right fit,” her mom replied.
“She has a point, I thought,” MacPherson said. And in spring of her senior year, MacPherson was awarded a four-year Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship to Northwestern University, where she majored in journalism.
In 1991, she became the third female battalion commander since the Northwestern unit was established in 1926. The 1990s was an era of concentrated changes for the military. The possibility of allowing women to serve in combat roles was being discussed; and banning service members based on sexual orientation was a debate that raged on campus.
For her part, MacPherson led the effort to bring to an end the tradition of having an “Empress Queen” crowned at the school’s annual Navy Ball. “It seemed like a relic from the past,” MacPherson said. “The idea of having me as a woman in uniform who was in charge of the midshipman battalion, ceremonially crown another female undergraduate as our queen was odd. It really brought home just how much times were changing, since most previous battalion commanders were men.”
When MacPherson returned to Northwestern for her 20-year college reunion, no one at the ROTC unit remembered the dozens of 8×10 framed Empress Queen portraits that used to adorn the walls of the midshipman headquarters, let alone had heard of the tradition.
A search and rescue helicopter squadron in Pensacola, FL, was MacPherson’s first duty station where she oversaw airframes, personnel and public affairs, and was awarded her first Navy and Marine Corps achievement medal.
After her squadron was disestablished during the downsizing efforts that dominated the 1990s, she was assigned as the hazardous materials and oil spill officer at Naval Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii. Her familiarity with the base’s cultural, historical and natural resources prompted an assignment in the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Office to provide familiarization tours to applicants for reuse of the land and facilities at the base.
“Wreckage from aircraft shot down during the attack on Pearl Harbor still lay where it fell in remote areas of the base, along with heiaus or sacred Native Hawaiian temples,” MacPherson said. “It was always a privilege to share these resources with people who cared for Hawaii and its people.”
Since her service, MacPherson spent 10 years in the private sector, in public relations and advertising firms in Honolulu and Florida, before joining local government. She was the communications and media director for Sacramento County, and she now serves as public affairs and communications director for the city of Roseville, CA.
Serving the community was a natural evolution from military service. “Many of us working in government, from the local to the federal level, do it because we want to make a difference,” she said. “It’s fulfilling to feel that in some way, you had a role in making your country and community better.”
“So much about the military has changed since the time I served,” she said. “But what I learned about leading people is the same. Despite its hierarchy, the military focus on servant leadership applies everywhere: Know your role on the team to accomplish the mission, and take care of your people.”