Carol Anderson, daughter of a quartermaster officer, recently retired after a decades-long tenure with the Environmental Management Division, Department of Public Works. (Photo by T. Anthony Bell)

If she had it her way, Carol Anderson would have spent the bulk of her career engrossed in study and analysis at the CIA or some other intelligence agency.

“I wanted to be a researcher,” she said, referring to her ambitions at the University of Texas in the late 1970s. “I had an interest in Eastern European culture.”

Life’s challenges, however, pushed Anderson down a different path; one that meandered through Fort Hood, Texas, working in finance and accounting and eventually to Fort Lee’s Environmental Management Division, where she recently capped a 37-year civil service career.

One could argue Anderson’s career was happenstance when in fact it was closely aligned to her essence. It was a good fit for her passion, dedication, proclivity for challenge and patience. The 64-year-old said the roads of her service have been at times full of twists, straightaways, inclines and more. It was mostly, however, a moving experience. 

“I would call it inspirational,” Anderson observed while sitting in her office within the Gregory E. White Building, home to EMD’s parent organization, the Directorate of Public Works. “Seeing changes over time – cultural changes – both in the environmental field and the acceptance of people has been inspirational.”

EMD’s mission is to ensure the installation complies with environmental regulations and focuses on restoration, prevention and conservation efforts while supporting the mission through an integrated environmental and training platform. 

Amid the execution of her duties and responsibilities, Anderson said ever-changing environmental regulations, command climates, public attitudes and other issues have all been juicy items of contention on her career plate, and she was eager to devour them with a sense of resolve.

“One of the things in the environmental world – and this has been consistent throughout my career – is that nothing is the same day-to-day,” she said. “There’s always something different coming up that perhaps you haven’t faced before and that’s a challenge. I like a challenge, and I like being able to apply myself to that.”

Changing how others think about environmental issues has been a career-long endeavor for Anderson. Describing herself as both a “tree hugger” and mission supporter, the military family member said education and awareness have moved people to become more accepting of environmental ideology and policy.

“I have definitely seen a cultural and thought shift toward ‘We’re doing something that is going to ensure our future, and it’s good for the mission, not a detriment to it,’” she said. “I can’t say there’s been a 100-percent turnaround because there are still people who are set on doing it their way no matter what. Sometimes, the only thing that stops them is for me to say, ‘That’s against the law. If you do that, you’re going to face fines or penalties.’”

Anderson said she has been especially impressed with young people (including Soldiers), and their eye toward activism and awareness. She remarked how a young girl speaking at a recent climate change protest in Richmond captured the zeal of Gen-Z’s concerns about the future.

“‘You’re going to die of old age,” Anderson recalled the youngster saying. “‘I’m going to die of climate change.’

“That really hit home,” she continued. “An 11-year-old said that, and all of the adults standing there were just awestruck.”

Anderson views increased environmental awareness over the past few decades as an achievement of sorts, but there are several others deserving of mention. The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure mandate, which more than doubled Fort Lee’s infrastructure, was an epic event lasting six years. Notably, the installation lost large tracts of habitat to new construction but only about an acre of wetland, critical for storm drainage and other functions.

“When we were doing the environmental planning piece of this, we were able to incorporate things that were not so detrimental,” she said, remembering the strategy to build up, not out. “We knew we had to support the mission, but we wanted to do it in a way that had the least impact on the environment.”

Standing up the Fort Lee Regional Archaeological Curation Facility is another source of pride for Anderson. Her team invested a decade into the allocation of funding for the building that houses historical artifacts from throughout the region. They were principally responsible for its design as well.

RACF’s crowning achievement came two years after construction when it temporarily housed artifacts from Jamestown – the country’s first permanent English settlement – following Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Anderson said taking in treasures from the country’s birthplace was a major undertaking.

“Oh my gosh!” Anderson said of the numerous artifacts. “It filled an entire warehouse.”

The pieces were stored in protective cases – some of which were water-filled and containing critters, recalled Anderson. National Park Service technicians worked diligently to restore the treasures that mostly sustained water damage.

“That collection is just irreplaceable,” Anderson said, “and I think Fort Lee was the reason they could do what they did to save it. For me, that was a wonderful accomplishment by the whole team.”

Community partnership building is another topic about which Anderson expressed pride.  She said her team has earned respect from state and federal regulators charged with watchdog responsibilities, and those relationships have enhanced EMD’s ability to carry out its mission.

“I believe that when you build relationships, you build success,” she noted, “and it’s not just to get to the endgame. In building those relationships, you have a structure to be successful and everybody can be a part of it.”

Anderson applied the same theory as a division chief with oversight of a team that had grown to 10 employees as of her retirement. She acknowledged a hard lean not only toward accountability but also inclusiveness and willingness to honor effort. 

“I think I’m what they’ve called a ‘tough boss,’ but I’m fair,” she said. “I also believe in recognizing commitment and work – not just at the top, but for everyone. I think that’s so important.”

Lynnette Atkins, a veteran civil servant who has worked under Anderson for four years, said her care and commitment to people are at the root of a thriving climate within EMD, which she noted is incomparable.

“I’ve never seen it in 41 years of federal service,” Adkins said. “I’ve never had a manager who treats people the way she does. She empowers them in whatever they do. ... I’m the lowest (ranking) person in the division, but she’s never made me feel like I am.”

Allan Mills, EMD’s supervisor, said Anderson also should be recognized for her off-the-charts work approach and ability to inspire.

“Carol is the type of person who will give you everything she has every day she comes into work,” he said. “She has a very strong work ethic, a massive amount of institutional knowledge and the ability to apply them both to the benefit of the Fort Lee mission.”

Craig Norris, also an Anderson subordinate, said his boss not only espoused high standards but also resisted employee complacency.

“She had expectations, and you needed to stick with those,” he said. “She was fair; she wanted to see you do what you needed to do, but ... she wanted to see everybody working under her getting better, too.”

Against the backdrop of Anderson’s professional achievements and strong working relationships is a personal life that had its early challenges as well. She is openly gay and remembers the time not too long ago when it was not OK to flaunt ones sexual orientation.

“If someone asked, I was not going to lie,” she confidently stated. “It was just difficult in the beginning (of her career). You couldn’t be yourself, and your family or your partner couldn’t go to events and things like that. … It also was difficult when people in the military were being removed because of their sexuality.”

That was prior to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. In the decades that followed, Anderson said people became more accepting once they knew more about someone as a person. “That’s when they realize you’re no different than anyone else,” in her words.

Anderson’s journey as a member of the LGBT community hit a high note in 2014 when co-workers, friends and others threw a wedding shower for her and her partner.

“It was amazing,” she recalled. “We had all these people who were essentially saying, ‘We love you; we’re so happy for you that this has happened.’”

Today, Anderson is legally married, is much more open and said gays have benefited from legislation and more receptive attitudes. 

“It’s easier now that I’ve gotten older and more ‘in-your-face about this thing,’” she said with a laugh.

Anderson said her retirement will consist of more travel, more golf and more of anything else she and her spouse feels like doing. Undoubtedly, she’ll also put her weight behind some effort promoting cultural change.