The Ones To Know: Mary Saunders

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(CBSDFW.COM) – There are more than 140 notable faces lining the wall of the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, and among the names like Congresswoman Kay Granger, WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is Major General Mary Saunders.

Saunders broke ground in her military career, and now teaches tomorrow’s leaders how to do the same.

“Almost every job I’ve had – I was the only woman,” Saunders says. “You go into the board room and you’re the only one. You go to a meeting and you’re one of a few. Then, once you step into the general officer ranks…”

Born in Nacogdoches, Saunders earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Texas Woman’s University and a Master of Arts in Guidance and Counseling from Rider University in New Jersey.

She then entered officer training school.

Over her 34 year career in the United States Air Force, she rose through the ranks, from Second Lieutenant, up to Major General.

Saunders spent her career working around the globe in places like Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Turkey.

Maj. General Saunders was not only the highest-ranking African American woman representing the U.S. Airforce at the Pentagon, but the first women ever to be named as Director of Transportation. She was responsible for 32,000 people and a fleet of 115,000 vehicles all over the world.

“When I came into the Airforce, there were none – zero women general officers,” the Maj. General said.

What did she learn from that experience?

“Life is a process,” Saunders says.

It’s a lesson she passes forward today. Maj. General Saunders serves as a trustee for the Dallas Women’s Foundation.

She also returned to her alma mater, TWU in Denton, after her military retirement. She serves as the Executive Director of the university’s Leadership Institute. Part of that job is to mentor students in the program.

Nicole Miller and Haley Penn are two seniors at TWU who admire her.

“She’s here with us and teaching us how to be confident. How to be bold, how to break those stereotypes that women often have,” Penn says.

Miller agrees: “It sort of allows us to see our own futures through her experiences,” she says.

“We want [students like them] to be some of the people who step up – who are helping to solve problems, not define the problem,” Maj. General Saunders says.

Mary Saunders was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2012, for her military service.

But she sees the honor as being about something bigger than herself. Walking through the walls lined with portraits, she sees not only the past, but the future.

“Possibilities. When we look at what they’ve accomplished, we want to build on what they’ve done,” says Maj. General Saunders.

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