A Tribute to Miriam Gay Sullivan

Friday, September 12, 2014

When I heard about the passing of Miriam Gay Sullivan, I stopped what I was doing and gave pause. In a summer of celebrity passings; people who are virtually household names, people whose deaths captured the headlines for days, people who had TV specials devoted to them; the name Miriam Gay Sullivan might not register in those circles. But to Army spouses, past and present; Gay (as she was called), was a known figure. I knew Gay and I'd like to share my reflections.

Gay Sullivan, the wife of the former 32nd Chief of Staff of the Army, and the current President of AUSA; was a wife, a mother, a grandmother; and to so many of us, she was the epitome of  a true and great Army spouse. She was someone I looked up to and wanted to emulate. I have a feeling anyone who knew Gay, feels the same way.

I first met Gay in 1994, when she spoke at our Division off-site conference. I was a brand new Colonel's wife. My husband had just taken command of the Aviation Brigade in the 1st Cavalry Division. We were so new we hadn't even unpacked the boxes in our quarters! I barely knew the other commanders' wives and I was trying to figure out my new role as a Brigade Commander's wife. As I sat in the audience, I had butterflies in my stomach, sweaty palms, and a dry mouth because we each had been asked to give a short presentation after Mrs. Sullivan spoke. I had to get up in front of my new peers and the wife of the Chief of Staff of the Army! All of that was going through my head while Patty Shinseki introduced Mrs. Sullivan.


Small in stature, barely able to see over the podium; in her familiar New England accent, Gay began talking. It was clear to all of us, her message, her presence was anything but small. As she talked about a new Army program called Army Family Team Building (AFTB), she stressed the importance of the well being of not just Soldiers, but their spouses and families too. Her passion shone through. It wasn't so much what she said that day, as the way she said it. She made each us feel the significance of being an Army spouse and the wonderful opportunities we would have to serve the big Army family. It was clear to me that she was a champion for everyone in our Army. She inspired me and I had another role model to follow.


Years later, while stationed in DC, I ran into Gay at a function and I reminded her of the time at Fort Hood when I first met her. I told her the impression she had made on me when I was a young Colonel's wife and I thanked her for that. For the past ten years my husband and I have had many opportunities to see both General and Mrs. Sullivan, usually at large gatherings, military functions, and AUSA events. I loved seeing a couple who had made it through all the years of Army life and still enjoyed each other in retirement. But I wish I had told Gay in greater detail just how much she meant to me and so many other Army spouses; past, present, and future. I hope she knows that I tried to pass on to this generation of Army spouses, what she and so many others had passed on to me. I hope she knows the legacy she left.


So, even if you didn't personally know Gay Sullivan, for the thousands of Soldiers and  families that she impacted; Gay Sullivan really was a celebrity.