Martha McClary’s ties to Fort Meade date back to the early 1940s when her aunt Dorothy Ferrari Wilton served in the Women’s Army Corps.
Wilton served in the Third Service Command, a Special Services unit located in Baltimore that provided entertainers for the Army. A vocalist and pianist, Wilton attended the Recreational Officer School at Fort Meade, which opened in 1942.
Four decades later, McClary, director of the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, began her 32-year career at Fort Meade when, in 1985, she was hired as an outreach worker for the former Child Development Services.
On Jan. 31, McClary will retire, leaving a legacy of compassion and leadership ability, according to her division chiefs.
“It’s been an interesting 32 years,” McClary said. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself. … I’ve seen so much change — good change.
“The installation grew exponentially during my tenure: From a loss of 9,000 acres in the 1980s to [now] being the second largest Army installation and the elevation [of U.S. Cyber Command] to the 10th Combatant Command of DoD.”
On Wednesday, Fort Meade will say farewell to McClary in a retirement ceremony from 3 to 6 p.m. at Club Meade.
“I’m really ready to pass the baton,” she said. “Just like change is good for me, change is good for an organization.”
McClary, who was promoted to director of DFMWR in 2009, said one of her goals at the time was to help the organization move forward and manage the change that Fort Meade was undergoing as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process.
One impact of BRAC 2005 on FMWR was the partial closing of The Courses, the installation’s popular 36-hole golf facility. That made way for the construction of the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Defense Media Activity. The remainder of The Courses was closed for construction of the National Security Agency’s East Campus and U.S. Cyber Command headquarters.
McClary said she and her team worked at “managing the change that was occurring the best way we could. We wanted to try to buffer against all the change, while growing our programs.”
The lives of some FMWR employees were significantly affected and “stabilizing staff was important,” said McClary.
Although McClary faced challenges early on as director, she said her team of five division chiefs have weathered the storm well and are stronger for it.
Doris Tyler, division chief for Army Community Service, has worked for McClary as a director for five years. The two women were colleagues when McClary served as chief of Child and Youth Services in 2007.
Tyler said one of McClary’s best qualities is “staying calm amidst chaos.”
“During her tenure, DFMWR lost a lot of real estate, golf course, hotel, etc.,” Tyler said. “She challenged division chiefs to think beyond what we had to think about [and] what we needed to become.”
McClary said there’s always been change and challenges in the positions she has held at Fort Meade. She credits the encouragement of her husband, Don, a retired Army major and former deputy of public affairs at Fort Meade, and that of garrison leaders throughout the years for her success.
“I was able to branch out and do a lot of things that kept me challenged,” she said. “Many of us in FMWR have jobs where we feel we are making a difference.”
A native of Western Pennsylvania, McClary was born into a family that honors military service. Her father Howard Cooper served in the Army with the 79th Infantry Division during World War II.
In a chapter about her service at Fort Meade that was published in the installation’s 100th anniversary e-book, McClary proudly writes how her father landed on Utah Beach and “was wounded with life-threatening injuries on July 9, west of Cherbourg, France.”
Two uncles also served in World War II.
McClary graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Edinboro State University in Pennsylvania and a master’s degree from Kansas State University, majoring in education and curriculum.
After teaching in the United States for a few years, she lived with her sister and brother-in-law who resided in Erlangen, Germany, where her brother-in-law was stationed.
McClary began working as a teacher in a DoD school and soon after, she met Don. The two married in 1977. On a second tour in Germany, the couple lived in Heidelberg before arriving at Fort Meade in 1984 with their son Don Jr.
Eventually, McClary decided to look for a job.
Don, who was working in PAO, told her about two job openings with Child Development Services. McClary interviewed for both positions, but was hired as an outreach worker.
The position launched a 32-year career in which McClary has climbed the ladder to Child Development Center manager, Child Development Services coordinator, and chief of CYS in November 2001. She held the post for eight years before her promotion to director of DFMWR.
Throughout the past three decades, McClary has witnessed the DoD establishing and implementing rigorous child care standards and the passage of the Military Child Care Act by Congress in 1989, which led to a comprehensive system of programs that now serve more than 1,800 daily at Fort Meade.
At Fort Meade, four CDCs, a Child Development Home, School Age Center, Teen Center and Youth Sports Complex were established during McClary’s years of service.
Other projects that were established include the conversion of Gaffney Fitness Cener into a Gold Gym’s concept, a 24/7 fitness center at Murphy Field House, and renovations at Club Meade. Future plans include an expansion of the RV Park, Family Pet Care Center and additional renovations to Club Meade.
“Mrs. McClary has been instrumental in leading CYS staff to improve the fill rate of vacant CYS positions and decreasing the waiting list for children to get into CYS facilities as a result of the implementation of the new background check procedures,” said Nathaniel Whitlaw, chief of Non-Appropriated Funds Support Services. “ … She has been a very stable, consistent and reasonable leader.”
McClary said she has been fortunate to have been hired to lead such a large organization at a time when women are breaking out of the traditional fields of education and teaching and into management.
“I’ve had really good support along the way,” she said. “I’m honored to have the confidence that people had in me. They saw things in me that I didn’t.”
McClary said competence in one’s field and respect for others have been the hallmark of her style of leadership.
Francisco Jamison, division chief of CYS, said McClary shows that “a director can be in a position of leadership and yet still be approachable and compassionate.”
McClary was part of the panel to select her successor.
Her fond memories of Fort Meade are of “the people, the friendships, the relationships you form” and “the leaders who come through to mentor you.”
McClary’s advice to the next FMWR director? “Take care of the team.,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”