In honor of Women’s History Month, Touchmark launched an initiative to identify and recognize exceptional female residents who defied the odds in their professional and personal lives to pursue opportunities that were historically off-limits for women. Please enjoy the story of Mary Pat Sullivan, a resident at Touchmark on Saddle Drive.
Please tell us about your personal and professional background.
I was born and raised in Townsend, Montana, on a ranch with four siblings. I earned my bachelor’s degree at Carroll College and my master’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado.
Upon graduation, I worked in various nursing roles in Denver, Colorado. I joined the Air Force at age 32 and found the love of my life. I served in the Air Force for 22 years, retiring as a colonel. I was able to travel all over the U.S. and was stationed in Germany and Turkey. After 22 years of active duty, my husband and I retired in Tucson, Arizona.
I was known as “Miss Volunteer” in Tucson.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in the military?
I initially decided to join the Air Force because I wanted to get away from a jealous boyfriend. It ended up being one of the best decisions of my life, as it was through the Air Force that I met the love of my life and got to pursue my nursing career.
What obstacles did you face pursuing your education and career opportunities?
I was very fortunate in that I didn’t face too many obstacles. In the Air Force, you can’t just stay in one area; the Air Force teaches you to move on and up if that is your choice. I always wanted to stay competitive so that I would be considered for promotions. I took extra educational courses and extra jobs, which landed me Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Chief Nurse Administrator, and Top Air Force Recruiter.
I had many jobs, and I loved them all. I got on board easily, so it was easy to make lots of transitions.
What is one thing you wish you had known/realized before you pursued this path?
I loved being a nurse and loved my Air Force career: I was lucky!
What advice would you give to women pursuing barrier-breaking careers today?
In nursing, there are so many different fields to specialize in, and you can explore new challenges. There is variety and challenge; be open to all of it.
It’s a very rewarding career with the opportunity to meet many wonderful people. Some of my lifelong friends came from the Air Force.
What activities or hobbies do you participate in now?
I was extremely involved in volunteering in Tucson. I did love Tucson, but after a fall and injuries, I moved back to Montana to be closer to family. I knocked my rocks loose and still struggle, but I am doing great.
In addition to my career, I was an active volunteer. I served as a docent at the Art Museum in Tucson, Arizona, volunteered at Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, and served as a lector at my church.
Outside of your family, what are the accomplishments in your life of which you are most proud?
This is a tough question to answer because life has been so rewarding. God gave me the brains to set out to do what I wanted to do. I have traveled extensively, including to Australia and New Zealand, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, Germany, France, England, Ireland, and the Holy Land. I liked all the places I traveled. Each was unique, and I had great experiences everywhere I went. I married the love of my life, and we shared 30 great years together.
I pushed forward and went for it. If you really want it, it is there. You have to prepare yourself by doing the education and the work.