Her interests range from fine art to world culture to human history. It sounds like heady stuff, but Rita Holton is very practical.
When she earned a degree in anthropology in 1968 from George Washington University in Washington, D.C, she knew finding a job in the field without further education would be tough. Her practical side kicked in.
“I wanted to get into the workforce in a responsible position where I could learn leadership skills and where there were better opportunities for women,” the Long Island native says.
Two older sisters, both nurses in the Air Force, encouraged Rita to explore the armed services as an option. She took their advice and enlisted in the Navy in 1969.
At the time, the Navy was opening more doors for women, but they still were few in number compared to men. Unlike today, women were barred from combat missions and serving at sea other than on hospital ships and transports. Rita was assigned to administrative duties but worked her way up to become a personnel (human resources) and training officer. She served two tours in San Diego and one in Hawaii, where she was stationed near Pearl Harbor.
“I would take a boat to work every morning and we’d pass the USS Arizona Memorial, which was always moving,” Rita says.
Rita feels grateful for her seven years of active duty in the Navy. “It definitely gave me the skills to really launch a solid career.” After her discharge, she moved to New York City and carved out a successful career in human resources, mostly in the financial services industry. Rita continued serving her country in the Naval Reserve for 20 years, retiring as a commander.
“When I look back on my service, I’m amazed how much I learned,” Rita says.
Today, she lives at La Loma Village, a Sun Health Senior Living community, where dozens of other veterans reside. “The veterans here have such great stories. It’s inspiring to listen to them,” Rita says.
Her self-appointed duty these days is to encourage young people to consider joining the service. “It’s a great place to learn responsibility and integrity and to gain leadership skills.”