YNCM Angela M. McShan, USCG, 39, passed away Dec. 29, 2000 due to heart failure and complications from cancer. Born May 4, 1961 in Newport ,R.I., she joined the Coast Guard in July 1979, and was currently serving as an instructor at the Chief Petty Officers Academy which she helped establish in New London, Conn. in June 1998. She was the first female African-American in the Coast Guard to be advanced to master chief. Funeral services were held Jan. 6, 2001 at the Porter St. Paul SME Church in Northport, Ala. Internment at Cedar Oak Cemetery, Tuscaloosa, Ala. with full military honors. Expressions of sympathy may be made in her memory to the American Cancer Society, 1-800-ACS-2345. The Southeastern Connecticut Chapter of the CPO Association is renaming its scholarship fund in her memory.
By Robert Hamilton
Originally published in the New London (Conn.) Day, Jan. 13, 2000.
New London--Normally junior enlisted people act as pallbearers at a Coast Guard funeral, but when Master Chief Petty Officer Angela Marie McShan's body arrived in Northport, Ala., for burial last week, four chief petty officers volunteered to make the four-hour trip from the district office in Mobile to render honors, three of them graduates of the Chief Petty Officer Academy she helped establish here.
More senior enlisted people turned out for a drill team and a rifle squad. Dozens of people who had worked with her during her 21-year career, officers and enlisted, made the trip from all around the country. Even the service's most senior enlisted person, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Vince Patton, attended.
"It reminded me that we are a Coast Guard family, and we had just lost a very important member," said Master Chief Sandy O'Toole, coordinator of the CPO Academy.
But O'Toole said McShan didn't just have an impact on the Coast Guard. The Porter St. Paul CME Church, behind the house where she grew up, was packed with childhood friends, and civilians she met as she traveled from one assignment to the next. One woman, McShan's former neighbor, made the trip to Northport from Washington, D.C. She told O'Toole how McShan, in a previous assignment, had cared for her when she was sick, picking up her medicine, making her meals, and sitting with her to offer encouragement.
"She was someone who cared, and you knew it," O'Toole said. "She made you feel special. When you talked, you knew you had her attention.
"Now she has the full attention of her shipmates. The local chapter of the Chief Petty Officers Association will re-name its scholarship fund in McShan's honor, and at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., there is discussion about naming an award for top senior enlisted leaders for McShan.
It is the kind of attention that the 39-year-old McShan would have shrugged off in life, her friends and co-workers said. But her memory deserves to be honored, they add. McShan was born May 4, 1961, in Newport, R.I., in a family of eight children. Her mother died when she was 16, and she lived with her grandmother while she finished high school. She had an offer of a basketball scholarship from a small southern school, but enlisted in July 1979.
"She said she could remember her mother telling her to do things and to go places, so she joined the Coast Guard," O'Toole said. In June 1998, she arrived at the Coast Guard Academy with O'Toole, and fellow instructors Senior Chiefs Gordy Yowell and Mark Thomas, to set up the CPO Academy.
"We were starting with an empty classroom, and the clock was ticking," O'Toole recalled. "We became a team very quickly." She met challenges head on: despite a childhood fear of water, she joined the Coast Guard; she was terrified of heights, but mastered the academy's high ropes program. She tackled the task of setting up the school the same way.
"We were trying to set everything up from scratch, so we would meet and talk everything out," O'Toole said. "Finally, she would just sit back and say, 'well, are we going to talk about this, or are we going to do it?'"
One of the things she took responsibility for at the academy was the wellness program. Her mother, and other relatives, had died of cancer, O'Toole said, so she took the job seriously.
"She was very passionate about wellness," O'Toole said. "She ate right, she didn't drink, she didn't smoke. And she was athletic - she was always running."
She also taught "Increasing Human Effectiveness," which underscores how a positive attitude can make a person more productive.
"Angela loved teaching that course," Thomas said. "It was about turning things around to be positive, which she did."
Yowell said people loved to be around her. Even his own two young sons couldn't wait to talk "Miss Angela" when the came to visit him at work, and she often exchanged e-mails with his 10-year-old.
She was diagnosed with cancer early in 2000, and went through surgery last April, followed by aggressive regimens of inpatient chemotherapy and seven weeks of intensive radiation. By August, she returned to work for a half-day at a time, usually wearing a scarf because her hair had fallen out and she refused to get a wig.
"I told her, 'at least yours is going to grow back,'" said Yowell, whose own hair is growing thin in the front. "She just laughed and said, 'you knucklehead.'"
McShan left for home on Dec. 18, promising to see everyone after the holidays. But she was rushed to the hospital on Christmas eve with pneumonia, and just before 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 29, she died.
Yowell was one of two people who pinned on her collar insignia last November (1999) when she made master chief, and he had been hoping she would return the favor when he advances this summer (2000). She was the first female African-American in the Coast Guard to rise to master chief.
"She knew it, but she would never mention it," Yowell said. "She knew her own accomplishments, and that was enough."