Admiral Stosz might just offer you a cigar

Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, shares a laugh with Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom in Feburary at the conclusion of her meeting with the mayor.
Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, shares a laugh with Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom in Feburary at the conclusion of her meeting with the mayor. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

I was intrigued when I saw a picture in February by The Day's Tim Cook of Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, who was shown meeting with Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom.

The admiral was shaking the mayor's hand and laughing at the same time, a big, hearty and robust laugh. She was still holding the mayor's hand, but her head was thrown back and her eyes were closed.

It looked like she was thoroughly enjoying the moment.

It also made me think to myself, there's someone who's really getting the most out of life, someone you would want to get seated next to on a train or plane or at a dinner.

That interesting picture also was one of the reasons I put in a request for an interview with the admiral. It certainly piqued my curiosity.

More important, I was interested in meeting the admiral because she is one of the region's big newsmakers, more than any academy superintendent I can remember in recent years.

Not only is she negotiating with New London for the possible purchase of city property. But she recently became a designated receiver of New London's Love the Coast Guard campaign, launched after Mayor Finizio's perceived slight of the service, in vowing to ignore a possible vote to sell them Riverside Park.

But Adm. Stosz hasn't just been making headlines locally. She recently was named by Newsweek as one of "150 Women Who Shake the World." And Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano just named her to the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council.

The council, made up of many of the country's most prominent university presidents and academics, had its first meeting last week in Washington.

I'm sure that's one reason I haven't heard back from that interview request. The admiral is naturally very busy. And she is no doubt having fun.

I might have forgotten about the admiral's intriguing inclination toward merriment had it not been for a new picture of her by The Day's Dana Jensen, which ran on theday.com Friday.

This time her head was not cocked all the way back, but it was headed that way. The admiral was again enjoying a big and hearty laugh, this time with Sean O'Keefe, former secretary of the Navy. It looked, again, like she was thoroughly enjoying the moment.

I see, from perusing some interviews the admiral has given over the years, that she does indeed seem to be a good sport, a smart and engaging person with a strong work ethic and, of course, a sense of humor.

She felt kind of at home as one of the women in the third class of women at the academy, partly because, as one of four siblings, she was the only girl. She unofficially swam on the men's swim team at the academy.

In high school, she was all-American in discus, a junior Olympic swimmer, lettered in four sports and finished in the top 5 percent of her class.

At the academy some 35 years ago, she told The Day's Jennifer McDermott in an interview last year, cadets were required to attend school dances where women were bused in to dance with the male cadets.

"The hardest part was building some of that self-esteem that was lost during that time," Stosz said. "People looked at you not as a real girl. The real girls were at Connecticut College. We were some weird hybrid - females of a species but not girls."

People magazine wrote about Stosz back in 1991, when she was put in command of the 140-foot Katmai Bay, assigned to the Great Lakes, and became the first woman to command a U.S. icebreaker.

She left for her icebreaking command from Washington, D.C., where she had served as the first female military aide to the secretary of transportation. She also was a social aide to the first President Bush, assisting at official ceremonies and receptions and greeting dignitaries and celebrities.

Stosz told People that she loved her work on the icebreaker, saying she found the sound of the ice hitting the side of the hull both comforting and mesmerizing.

"How many jobs are there," she was quoted as saying in People, "where you can take a boat out and hit things on purpose."

In the same interview, Stosz told of speaking before a meeting of the Upper Great Lakes Captains Association, a male-dominated group that she said expected captains to be burly, smoking cigars and wearing combat boots.

She began her remarks to the group with, well, an ice breaker.

"I pulled out a cigar and asked if anyone had a light," she was quoted as saying in People.

Maybe I got the wrong impression from that picture in February. Maybe Mayor Nystrom just tells a really great joke.

I don't think so. I think maybe the admiral has a real gusto for life, and it shows.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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