Many people say it’s an honor just to be nominated, and that’s exactly how Ellen Houlihan felt when she learned that a respected colleague wanted to nominate her for the White House Champions of Change program, which recognizes everyday Americans making positive changes in their communities.
“I was literally speechless that he would consider me,” says Mrs. Houlihan, who was in the United States Military Academy’s (USMA) third graduating class that included women and now serves as vice chair of the board of directors for the West Point Association of Graduates (WPAOG).
That speechlessness turned to jumping up and down in an airport parking lot when she learned that she, along with nine other women from around the country, had won for their service as female veteran leaders. This past March, they were invited to the White House for a panel discussion and ceremony in front of senior White House and Veterans Affairs staff, as well as local male and female veterans. The day also included a luncheon, which gave the 10 honorees a chance to connect.
“We could have talked all afternoon,” says the member of Lexington Chapter, Lexington, Mass. “There was this great synergy among us because we were united as women veterans but were all doing such different things, from owning our own companies to running nonprofits that help put veterans to work.”
Mrs. Houlihan’s service to the WPAOG includes supervising the overhaul of the organization’s bylaws and governance model, which hadn’t changed since the Civil War. In 2006, she also helped organize a professional conference celebrating the 30th anniversary of the admission of women to the USMA.
In addition to being among the first female graduates of West Point, she also became the first woman to assume various positions within the WPAOG, including the first woman elected president of her class, first female president of a local alumni club, and as vice chair of the board of directors, the first woman elected to a senior leadership role within the 50,000-member alumni association.
Her path to West Point wasn’t typical. A high school basketball player, she was recruited as an athlete. After graduating, she was commissioned in the field artillery and served as a platoon leader, motor officer and executive officer during three years of active duty at Fort Carson, Colo. She served an additional two years in the inactive reserves before transitioning to a civilian career. Today, she lives near Dallas and works for Raytheon Company, selling and marketing the company’s long-range precision sensor technology to U.S. and international military customers.
Her service in the Army spanned only a few years, but Mrs. Houlihan says that time continues to inspire her. “I often think of the sacrifices these young men and women and their families make for our nation,” she says. “I’m proud to have had the chance to lead and learn from some of those soldiers who work toward a purpose bigger than themselves.”
That idea of a larger purpose led Mrs. Houlihan to the DAR after moving to Lexington with her husband, Glen. At a gift shop she happened to meet a former Lexington Chapter regent who encouraged her to research her ancestry and become a member. After joining, she encouraged her mother and grandmother to join, too.
“DAR has been a wonderful way to learn,” she says. “Not only does our chapter provide educational opportunities for the community, but as a member, you also learn so much about the Patriots who fought for our freedom.”
In her free time, Mrs. Houlihan also enjoys golf and cycling. This summer, she completed a “European” cycling tour—without leaving Texas. She explains, “I rode my bicycle to Paris, Texas, and Italy, Texas.”