You don’t have to be an engineer to build bridges.
Patti Williams’ 34-year career connecting park and employee needs to available resources - and sometimes unavailable resources - is a testament to that.
The old saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” defines Williams’ ability to create something out of nothing when necessary. She innately bridges gaps by building relationships with people, partners and stakeholders across the board. The current trending term “influencer” sums it up. She has influenced (and it’s not an understatement to say steered) the direction of the Natural Resources Management program at Portland District, Northwestern Division and nationally.
Williams most recently served as the Natural Resources and Environmental Compliance Program Manager for the Northwestern Division. It took some whiskey sours to get there though. Williams literally rode into her career as a park ranger and eventual leader of the recreation community on a horse named Whiskey Sour. As a law enforcement commissioned park ranger for the National Park Service, she patrolled public lands on horseback.
From there, she trail-blazed into the Corps scene as Huntington District’s first female park manager. The diversity of her career has also includes: dam tour guide at Hoover Dam, district dive program manager and maintenance diver, operations project manager, branch chief and more.
Patti’s favorite memory of her time as a patrol ranger with her horse Whiskey Sour
“There is a well-circulated story about the time I worked as a horse patrol Ranger for the National Park Service on Cape Cod and my horse (Whiskey Sour) decided to head back to the barn without me. I had walked away from him to place a ticket on a car that was double-parked as I had done many times before, but something spooked him. He reared up and headed out of the parking lot, cutting across a busy 4-lane highway. He didn’t look both ways, but made it through the median and took off down the highway with the flow of traffic.
To make matters worse my saddle bags were open and the lids were flopping up and down so he was littering about a hundred pink parking tickets I’d written that week that I hadn’t had time to process. This was my second season with the Park Service and as I watched him head down the road, I wondered how I would explain to my parents why my Park Ranger career was so brief.
Just then a guy in a red Subaru pulled up to me and said, 'Is that your horse? Get in!' That red Subaru cut across the 4-lane highway in nothing flat and eventually caught up to Whiskey, who was galloping in the left lane. We were in the right lane. I watched in amazement as the driver reached out with one hand and grabbed Whiskey’s reins as he steered the car. Then he slowed car and horse down to a stop.
He had accomplished the impossible. I was having trouble speaking at the time, but as I gathered the reins I did squeak out a thank you to the man that saved Whiskey’s life and likely my career.”
Note: We also asked Patti if she had ever been to the desert on a horse with no name, but sadly, the answer was no.
Suffice it to say she has done it all.
Then there’s the things she just does (or did) for fun: volunteer fire fighter, emergency medical technician and church and community charitable activities, such as working with the homeless. In her retirement, she plans to stay on the path of service and volunteer at a German Shepherd rescue organization. Williams for President? Sainthood? Seems reasonable…
When she is not bridge-building, she is map-making.
The Corps’ National Recreation Program Strategic Plan, also known as the recreation roadmap, is a direct result of her leadership contributions. Her service as member and chair of the Recreation Leadership Advisory Team led recreation into the 21st century and beyond by modernizing the program with established goals and efficiencies, building national partnerships and communication strategies. She also secured millions of dollars in American Recovery Reinvestment Act funding, which was invested in Corps recreation sites across the nation. Her lifetime of work was recognized by all the major federal land agencies when, in 2020, she became the Corps of Engineers’ recipient of the Legends Award from the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.
Williams holds no secret to success; she shares them all with her peers and the people she mentors.
“I have learned over the years to tap into the wisdom of my team and my peers for ideas and answers, as they are usually better than my own! It’s important to question the old ways of doing business, but come to the table with innovative and efficient solutions. Nobody likes a complainer, everyone likes a solution-finder. That is how you lead from where you sit.”
Adding to her stack of commander coins and collection of civil service awards, Williams recently received the Bronze De Fluery Medal. The most prestigious award presented by the U.S. Army Engineer Association, it recognizes both civilian and military personnel for their professional excellence and outstanding contributions to the United States and to Army engineering. There are four orders of the award: steel, bronze, silver and gold. The Bronze Order is presented to those who render significant service or support to an element of the Engineer Regiment.
Now as Williams prepares to ride off into the sunset of retirement, presumably on a horse (Club Soda?), she leaves us with this challenge, “Win every day. No matter how challenging a day is, or how much wheel-spinning you feel you are doing, find the “win” in the day.”
Adieu Ms. Williams; it will be difficult to find another die hard civil servant who fits your cape, but, as the Corps' motto says: ESSAYONS (Let Us Try)!
Author’s Note: Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with Patti in different capacities. For me and countless others, she has been a kind mentor, patient teacher and loyal friend. During my interview with Patti and in my research, I began to grasp the magnitude of her impact to the people she has worked with, the public she has served, the programs she brought life to and the missions she committed her livelihood into moving forward. On behalf of the recreation and environmental stewardship communities, thank you for your steadfast service and passion. We are grateful for the bridges you built and the roadmaps you’ve laid out for us so we don’t lose sight of where we are going!