SEATTLE ― Like Betty Farwell and Winnie W. Cox, Victoria “Vickie” Shepard was a trailblazer. Not only did Shepard work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as Farwell and Cox did, but she also blazed an advancement trail for future USACE women.
Shephard, of West Seattle, Washington, began her career at the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (the Locks) June 1997. She advanced through the ranks, working the Locks wall, and handling the line before being chosen as the Locks’ first and only female lockmaster to date. Shepard, who completed her 23 years of federal government service at the Locks, passed away Oct. 12, 2020.
On Oct. 12, 2021, Locks employees held a memorial to share their memories of her influence on their lives. During the event, the team presented Shepard’s official certificate of retirement from federal service to her daughter and dedicated a memorial bench in her honor. Colonel Alexander “Xander” L. Bullock, Seattle District commander and Operations Chief Amy Reese were among the attendees.
Shepard’s daughter, Jen, described her mother as a humble person who never sought the spotlight and said it was only after her mother’s passing that “I realized she accomplished so many things I never knew about. She just did it. If an opportunity presented itself or something needed to get done, she did it.” Jen said her mother was proud of her female coworkers and “…from what I gather, her encouragement was in the form of constant support.”
During her time at the Locks, Shepard trained, mentored, and guided new lock wall crew members like Jason Bergerson, a lock and dam operator. Bergerson was part of Shepard's crew and credits his career achievements to Shepard’s guidance and leadership abilities.
“Vickie was a terrific teacher and mentor,” Bergerson said. “She was so incredibly patient and understanding. When you were training with Vickie, you felt confident and comfortable because you knew she had your best interest in mind and always had everything under control.”
Joseph “Joey” Cavallaro, the lock and dam operator supervisor, worked with Shepard during her times as crew lead and lockmaster. “Vickie always shared her knowledge and experience and was an excellent resource as a new employee,” Cavallaro said. “She had a knack for keeping the mood light and friendly while maintaining an air of authority with troublesome boaters.”
Describing Shepard as confident, Cavallaro explained, “She started at the Locks in the late 90’s. I’ve heard what the [male-dominated workplace] climate may have been like at that time. She was confident in herself and her place in the world ― at least she convinced me she was, without ever trying,” he added.
Colleagues remember Shepard’s love of sports especially Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners, college basketball, and Edgar Martinez, a famous Mariners baseball player whom Shepard met on one of his visits to the Locks. Bergerson described Shepard as “so star-struck she could barely talk” on meeting Martinez but eventually she plucked up the courage to ask him, "Do you know you look a lot like Edgar Martinez?" He replied, "Yeah, I get that a lot". Bergerson said Shepard “just about melted.”
Shepard’s coworkers will also remember her as one of the main voices over the public address system who regularly communicated to mariners using the Locks, or to people visiting the fish ladder, the Charles S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens, or just passing through the facility.
“Vickie was one of my favorite people to work with, ever!” Bergerson said. “She was just a great person and friend. I will always remember the amazing times we had at work and I am forever grateful for the huge impact she had on me as a person and a leader.”
Jen said her mother would encourage any woman who would be interested in a career at the Locks to, “Go for it!” and to “Listen. Be objective. Be honest. Be fair. Keep an open mind and have a sense of humor. That's Mom.”