Among the memorable remarks made by Jim Valvano, one has stuck with Frances Holt through the years. “Coach Valvano always used to say, ‘Position yourself for success,’” Holt says. “I’ve remembered that all of my life and it’s something I try to do every day.”
Holt has positioned herself for success throughout her career. She graduated from NC State with a degree in science education in 1962 and retired from the U.S. Navy this summer after 50 years of civilian service.
“We are always at the ready,” she says, referring to her time with the Navy. “During wartime, you don’t have time to sit and plan things out. We have to respond correctly and efficiently to whatever the Navy might need.”
Holt spent her entire career with the Navy in Fleet Ordinance Support. Fleet Ordinance Support provides the Navy with weaponry — like tomahawk missiles and other cruise missiles — and everything else it needs to be ready to fight.
She started with the Navy in 1966, working as a chemist at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown based in Yorktown, Va. After spending the early part of her career testing and designing samples that would become parts of mines and bombs, she transitioned into a management role.
While she acknowledges that working with explosives is some of the most interesting work a chemist can do, she reiterates that the transition to management had rewarding aspects of its own. “I left my white coat behind,” she says. “But I have an intense interest in big systems and how they work; that you have the right people and the right budget, it’s so satisfying to me.”
In 2006, Holt was instrumental in the establishment of the Navy Munitions Command at Yorktown, Va., where she served as executive director from 2006 until her retirement this summer. The Navy Munitions Command provides the Navy with firepower and support worldwide and, according to Holt, has an annual budget of about $120 million.
Certainly, the demanding nature of a job with the Navy is not for everyone. Holt says one of the questions people frequently asked her was ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing in a business like that?’ To her, the answer always came easy. “I viewed it as doing my part for my country,” she says. “So many people have fought so hard in service for our country, and it’s always important to defend the values we hold so dearly.”
Holt says she has been in the gender minority as a student and throughout her professional career, but she has spent little time worrying about it.
“The work was so demanding that I quickly learned to get the job done and not worry about the context,” she says. “I would make the coffee, make the ham biscuits, whatever would facilitate the work of the team. In a team setting, you have to do whatever it takes to get the job done. I didn’t have time to worry about anything else.”
After retiring with the Navy this summer, Holt says she took one day of vacation before starting work at the Technology Commercialization Center, a small business comprised of technology and business experts who help transfer inventions from the laboratory to the marketplace based in Hampton, Va., where she currently lives.
Retiring altogether – or, as she puts it, a “Plan B” — is something that never entered her mind. “Someone recently said to me, ‘Frances, you don’t know the meaning of the word retirement.’ I’m just excited for a new challenge,” she says.
— Will Watkins