Quietly unconventional. These two words capture the essence of Dee Bryant. Spend time in her unassuming company, and you wouldn’t presume she was a groundbreaking pioneer. But Dee was a woman ahead of her time, working in the 1950s as a naval architect, a technical world few women then inhabited.
Dee managed projects outside Washington, D.C., at the David W. Taylor Naval Ship Research and Development Center (now the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center). Her main focus was testing innovative ship and hull designs.
In the 1970s, Dee became the first female head project manager for a full new ship design, a short aircraft carrier. Naval architecture projects entail building exact replica scale models to test hydrodynamics, cavitation, and trackability. As a prank, her team painted the model pink instead battleship grey to acknowledge Dee’s vanguard leadership. Though they later had to change the hue because paint color matters at testing, Dee was forever after known as the Pink Lady.
Always unassuming, Dee deflects admiration with wry humor. “Plenty of people reminded me that I was unconventional. I understood perfectly that women didn’t do what I did, but I don’t think it’s particularly interesting. I did my job. I made it. And we all lived through it.”
The classified nature of Dee’s work suited her personality. She could share little, but her son Tom recalls watching the scene in "The Hunt for Red October" where the deep submergible rescue vehicle (DSRV) Mystic ferried men between the USS Dallas and the Red October. Dee casually asked, “Did I ever tell you I worked on that?”
Indeed, Tom Clancy conferred with Dee's team and colleagues when researching his book, and Dee owns a signed first edition. While the film is notorious for confirming the existence of naval technology that was then still classified, circumspect Dee was not the source! Dee’s prized possession, however, is the star quilt made by her grandmother. Dee and her sister spent summers with her grandmother in Summerfield, N.C., learning to sew. Her grandmother was strict -- if you didn’t do it right, you had to do it again. She fostered a lifelong love of sewing in Dee.
Born Nov. 8, 1926, Aditha was the quiet younger sibling, growing up with her sister Lora. Her mother, Elsie Lee Ladd, died in 1927 when Dee was too young to have any memory of her. Her father, Joseph Thomas Lloyd, remarried Sylvania Parham on April 2, 1929.
A cat lover, Dee’s household responsibility was to feed their felines, Maggie and Jiggs. Sylvania, a true Southern gentlewoman, was the mother Dee called every day until her death, even paving the way for Dee’s move to Forest Hills, having lived there for 17 years until she passed in 1994. Dee was close with her outgoing sister.
When Lora was disowned by Joseph and Sylvania following a disapproved marriage, Dee remained loyal, secretly keeping in touch, and quietly supporting her sister financially until Lora’s death in Tucson, Arizona, in 1988. Dee’s father was an attorney for the Veterans Affairs Department, moving the family from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Columbia, S. C., to Charlotte, N.C., before eventually settling in Washington. These many moves contributed to Dee’s focus on quiet scholarship. She excelled in school.
Following high school, Dee matriculated at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, then known as the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina. Dee loved her time there for the freedom and the new friends. She earned a B.A. in physics, because at that time they didn’t award B.S. degrees to women.
After graduation, Dee began work at the Taylor Center, where she remained until her retirement in 1987. She is proud to say, “I prepared my life. I chose my major and followed into that type of work.” A lover of love, Dee was happily married three times – to three different people, she will add with a smile. She recalls courting as among the happiest times of her life.
In 1954, she married Joseph Patrick "Pat" Hendrican, an electronics technician in her group at work. The following year their son, Tom, was born. Dee took a break from working to raise Tom until junior high school, when she returned to naval architecture. The family lived a simple life of work, school, scouts and socializing with neighborhood friends, primarily based on Patterson Street in the District's neighborhood of Chevy Chase. They visited relatives and twice went to the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in New York City.
Three years after Pat died in 1981, she wed Harold Nagle, gaining two stepdaughters, Toby and Connie. Toby, in fact, had worked with Dee at the Taylor Center and introduced the couple. Unfortunately, illness took Harold after they were married for only 8 months.
Dee then married Robert “Bob” Bryant in 1990, gaining one more step-daughter, Cindy. Dee met Bob through a cousin at a family gathering. They were married for four years before he passed away. No social butterfly, Dee prefers to watch television (too much, she will tell you), or socialize with close friends. An avid reader, Dee enjoys novels about families and interactions between people.
For years she had a regular Sunday lunch date with her circle of church girlfriends: Ina Morgan, Kathye Wharton, Virginia Hammer and others. Dee’s tastes are simple, the crab cakes from Clyde’s Restaurant being her favorite meal. Loving church and hymns from her earliest days, Dee remains an active member of Wesley United Methodist Church. She taught Sunday school and volunteered in the church office for many years. She traveled as far as Korea on a church excursion. Always generous with people and organizations supporting the underserved, Dee was especially committed to church projects such as the Rutillio Grande House, a co-op promoting social justice and providing homes for people of El Salvador and Guatemala.
When asked, Dee will tell you her greatest accomplishments are her first car, her work, and her son. She loved the freedom of having a car, and was proud that she bought her 1948 Chevy for herself with the advice of her dad. Her husband Pat didn't drive. Of her son Tom, she’ll tell you simply, with her signature humor, “I have the best son that’s ever been born. It’s not my fault.” Based on her lifelong work in physics, Dee strives not to make waves. Though circumspect, her conversation is still characterized by her dry wit, and her mind remains inquisitive and lively. With the steely reserve of an indomitable Southern woman, the resilient Dee remains as unsinkable as the crafts she helped designed.