My introduction to the Naval Institute came through my husband, Rear Admiral Joe Callo, who was exposed to the Institute while a midshipman in the Yale NROTC. He has subsequently written a number of articles for Proceedings and books for the Naval Institute Press and was Naval History Author of the Year in 1998.
I served in the Naval Reserve for 27 years as a public affairs officer and, more recently, as director of the USS New York (LPD-21) Commissioning Committee. In the corporate world, I have been a communications strategist, specializing in crisis, strategic, and marketing communications in the oil, airline, publishing, and energy industries. I retired in 2005 as a senior vice president for Aquila Energy, a Fortune 100 company.
Today, I serve as secretary and board member of the U.S. Naval Services Supplemental Education Fund and on the board of the National Maritime Historical Society. Joe and I are founding members of the American Friends of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, and I serve as a trustee and secretary/treasurer.
My life has been an interesting journey, and there is a story behind it—a truly American story.
On the surface, my childhood was unlikely to produce either a corporate executive or a Navy captain. I was born in New York City post–World War II; my parents emigrated from China in the early 1900s. My mother was a city girl, so we lived in an apartment in New York’s Chinatown that had hot-and-cold running water and indoor plumbing. My father was a farmer who provided Chinese vegetables to Chinatown, so we also lived on a farm in a rural part of New Jersey that did not have those amenities.
This meant my two older brothers and I went to two different schools in two different grades each year: September to January in New York; February through June (during growing season) in New Jersey. Because the curricula for the school systems were not synced, I was in one grade in New York and a different grade in New Jersey. I did not do very well scholastically. A chance meeting with a missionary nun in New York brought me to a bilingual school in Chinatown and onto a path to learning and excelling in school. But this opportunity meant I could no longer move with my family between states during the school year. So, starting at age nine, when my family moved to the farm at the end of January each year, my oldest brother (age 13) and I lived alone in Chinatown so we could stay in one school.
Because I came from a traditional Chinese family, it was not expected that I would go to college, but my mother had hopes for this. Since my two older brothers were in college, it was unlikely my parents could afford to send a third child. I elected to work to pay for a few courses at Pace University, with a goal of matriculating in the future. When I informed the university that I would not immediately be able to attend for lack of funds, Pace offered me a full scholarship (a grant that, apparently, few people were aware of or applied for). I gratefully accepted and spent the next few years attending classes while working to cover transportation and lunch costs.
It was at Pace that I discovered the emerging field of corporate communications and public relations, and that steered me to my first job at Sinclair Oil Corporation. There, the company funded my MBA in that discipline.
Later, as spokesperson for United Airlines, I was frequently quoted in the news media, and that is how I came to the attention of the Navy. While working at United, I was offered and accepted a direct commission in the Naval Reserve. Based on my years of experience and my MBA, I was commissioned a lieutenant (junior grade) with a public affairs designation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Joe and I believe in the overarching importance of the U.S. Navy to our past, present, and future. This understanding translates naturally to our support of the Naval Institute and its rigorous investigation of how maritime power relates to our national welfare. We are convinced the Institute’s new Jack C. Taylor Conference Center is a perfect embodiment of this effort. We were delighted to contribute and are proud that our commitment will be recognized in perpetuity on the center’s Celestial Wall, reflecting our ongoing dedication and support of the Naval Institute.