It was her first day in the Navy. Florence Coyne McDonald (nicknamed Flip, as in “flip a Coyne”) had taken a train from New Orleans, La., where she grew up, to Northampton, Mass. This was 1943, with World War II raging. Florence had joined the Navy right out of college.
Arriving in Massachusetts, anticipating the start of an exciting Navy career, Florence’s luggage was lost. Then she sprained her ankle, and it was pulsing with pain whenever she walked or stood.
Struggling, she reported to her commanding officer, who sat with his feet up on his desk, casting a dubious eye over this new recruit. “I don’t think he believed me that I’d hurt my ankle,” Florence says, laughing about the incident now. She remembers being shocked that the officer didn’t even ask her to sit down. “Maybe he was upset about being assigned to this duty with all these women,” she says, with a chuckle.
Despite that uncertain start, Florence immediately took to Navy life, and her career skyrocketed. Impressed with her intelligence, her superiors discussed sending her to navigator’s school, but later, they decided that aerology – meteorology, or weather forecasting– would suit her better.
“I was sent to MIT to study meteorology for a year,” Florence says, “and that was my job for most of my time in the Navy.”
Florence entered the Navy during World War II as an officer candidate, becoming a commissioned ensign after midshipman’s school, and retiring as a full commander after 20 years’ of service. She loved her time in the Navy and appreciated the opportunities it offered her. She even met her husband at her last duty station– Naval Air Station Glenview, outside of Chicago, Ill. Florence served all over the world. “I went to Alaska when it was not yet a state,” she says. But she holds a special place in her heart for Japan.
“I went to Japan on a military transport ship,” Florence says. “We were allowed to wear civilian clothes the whole time, except for the day when we sailed into Tokyo Bay. We had to be in full uniform.” This was the mid-1950s. It was early morning. The submarine nets were still up, so Florence’s ship had to lie off until the ship could enter the bay. “When they opened those gates,” Florence says, “three destroyers came out, and I remember being so proud and so thrilled to see those American flags flying.”
Florence served for two years in Japan at the fleet weather central. “Part of my job,” Florence says, “was to give a weather briefing every morning to the Admiral who was Commander-in-Chief, Pacific.”
After Japan, Florence returned to the States to serve in the Pentagon, the headquarters of Navy aerology. In fact, the 9-11 terrorist attack plane that flew into the Pentagon struck the area where Florence’s office used to be.
Throughout her time in the Navy, Florence was aware of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and was always impressed with the Society’s mission. “I’ve been fortunate in not having financial problems,” she says, “but I can sympathize with enlisted men and women who don’t get paid very much. Especially if they have a family.”
That’s why, in addition to giving monthly to help Sea Service members and their families in need, Florence has decided to do even more. She’s given a special gift – a legacy gift that will continue her support for years to come.
“I’m a churchgoer,” she says, “and I believe we’re here to serve God and to help each other. This is a way of doing that.”
The legacy gift that Florence has given is a charitable gift annuity. It pays her a regular income while it funds the work of the Society, and it creates her legacy of compassion for Sailors, Marines, and their families. The impact of Florence’s gift will continue for generations. “I think it’s a lovely idea, “Florence says, “to help someone else after you’re gone.”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso