A Lock of Hair and a Salute to my Visible Figure

(Photo credit: Mama Helen collage by Ann Wead Kimbrough) 

Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library –https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/6106437263President w:George W. Bush, White House Chief of Staff w:Andy Card (left), Donald Richards (far left) and Admiral w:Richard Mies conduct a video tele-conference at w:Offutt Air Force Basein Bellevuew:Nebraska. U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: P7093-16

We called her Mama Helen.  We could not call her Grandma or Grandmother Helen; she was Mama Helen, a name she requested that all of her grandchildren call her during this magnificent lady’s marvelous life. Since I was #3 in order of grandchildren born to Mama Helen, I quickly got in line with the name calling requirement. Names and titles were a big deal for this grand lady who was my mother’s mother.

What’s significant about Mama Helen’s work years at U.S. Strategic Air Command (USSTRATCOM  or “SAC,” is her allegiance to our country as she worked in a top-secret capacity during the period when the U.S. Air Force’s underground command bunker was built in the 1950s and 1960s. Offutt is well-known for several top military activities designed to protect U.S. inhabitants from nuclear war and other such enemy forces. The Nebraska base where Mama Helen worked is best known in modern times for being the site where U.S. President George Bush, Jr.  was taken during the Sept. 11, 2001 attack upon the United States. The underground bunker is designed to withstand a nuclear attack.

My mother recently told me that Mama Helen would have been a factor in the #MeToo movement. It occurred to me after reading the book and viewing, “Hidden Figures,” that I had one in my own family and that visible figure was Mama Helen. Mama Helen was an employee in a military organization.  We never knew all of “top secret” projects that Mama Helen worked on during her employment between the 1940s through early 1960. We just knew that Mama Helen was held in a high esteem because of her skills, yet she endured lots of discrimination.

She dressed to the ‘nines’ and Mama Helen NEVER let us see or hear the stress from her work, her long and sometimes harrowing drives to work and other similar matter. Her official title was an administrative assistant to the scientists at Offutt Air Force Base, which Nebraskans referred to as “SAC.”  My Mom got a job at the air force base while Mom was in her teens and Mama Helen’s daughter recalls the prior-to-the-sun-rising meetings where Mom and Mama Helen ‘caught their ride’ through uneven roads that led to Offutt. The ride was equally long and challenging home in the evenings.

Mama Helen retired from Offutt Air Force Base in the 1960s and immediately began to serve young women. Mama Helen passed on to her next great adventure at the age of 90 in 2008. Since that time, each day I have either worn a piece of her jewelry and/or carry an object of her courage. She raised six children and was married twice.

Mama Helen inspired me in many ways and here are a few of the major ones:

  1. On the day she was being transported by ambulance from her condo to the hospice in Omaha, she telephoned me to boast that she was able to vote for a “black president.” She died 22 days later.
  2. She was the consummate community volunteer.
  3. She read Opera scores and was a sought-after production team member in the Omaha theatre community.
  4. She acquired quality jewelry during her world travels and those of her supervisors.
  5. She typed at the highest speed I ever witnessed on a non-electric machine. It made me wish to type to beat her record of 160 WPM – error free.
  6. She gave birth to six children and all succeeded in their respective professions.
  7. She held quality time for each of her many grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
  8. She was born in April and assured me that the best people (especially me) were born that month. The first memorable gift that I recall from Mama Helen was a tabletop book about the great leaders of the world.
  9. She never learned to drive a vehicle, yet was very mobile and active. She instilled in me the spirit of adventure, reading and following one’s passion while serving the community.
  10. When she retired, Mama Helen followed one of her many callings and that was train young women in career fields.
  11. She tithed her talents, finances and love to her church and the community.

To say that I miss Mama Helen is an understatement. I keep a lock of her hair sealed in a plastic bag and include it among my special collection of her jewelry, writings and memories.

For a little more about this phenomenal woman, see http://www.chsfomaha.org/news-2/693-mary-douthy

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About awkimbrough

I've led a vibrant team that won an Atlanta Emmy award for television excellence in the public service category. I've earned many awards and received lots of recognition as a multi-media financial journalist. My career boasts of writing a multi-million grant and designing diversity curriculum for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, and serving as the highest ranking woman in local governments throughout the state of Georgia. I am also a high achiever who had the vision to bring a $34 - $100 million project to the campus of a university that would change the trajectory of students and generations of people of color, albeit the university shelved the five-year effort. Yet, the works lives on and for that, I am grateful. Yet, my proudest and greatest accomplishments are found in the "hidden" life of Ann Lineve Wead Kimbrough and that is in spaces with my family, one-on-one mentoring with college students, my higher spiritual alliance and volunteer assignments to contribute to a better world. I am fortunate to have been a Mom to three amazing children who are now adults. Having a son with special needs -- blind and partially deaf -- have aided our family in closeness and joyous bonding around matters the world would otherwise believe to be one of "Oh, I'm sorry your son is blind." I am a better communicator and citizen of this world because I am the parent of a double-(physically) disabled child. I am a better parent because my first born is an achiever off the charts and proudly served as a member of the Marching 100 of Florida A&M University. I am a great woman because my only daughter is a minister of the Gospel, an exceptional veteran and life-long supporter of her visually impaired twin brother. I am a grateful grandmother because my children thought enough of their lives to bear great fruit. For those who want to read a traditional "About Me" here it is: I am a visiting faculty member @my grad school, Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications. Previously, I served as dean and professor of multimedia, innovative journalism in the Journalism & Graphic Design School at Florida A&M University. As an award-winning journalist and higher ed executive, my latest high profile project involves the multi-faceted development of a 'teaching hospital' formed via a public-private partnership and located on the FAMU campus. The public-private partnership's outcome is a multi-million-dollar, annual economic benefit to the north Florida region with direct benefits to communication students enrolled in programs at FAMU. FAMU's administration and board canceled the project. It has been a rewarding career where I have been transforming lives in education, government, and media for more 25 years. Also, as a ghost and co-writer of literary works that highlight the careers and lives of accomplished world shapers I am achieving a valued use of my talents and skills.
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3 Responses to A Lock of Hair and a Salute to my Visible Figure

  1. hmharvey says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Mama Helen.

  2. justvevVev says:

    I see where your innovating spirit comes from. She was remarkable and your family is blessed to have your own Hidden Figure. Indeed a great read. Great that you have tangible keepsakes to remind you of her.

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