Marjorie Walker never expected to work on stealth bombers when she enrolled at La Sierra College in 1941. Th at’s just one of many surprising turns in a most remarkable life.
Marjorie’s unconventional career began at the age of 14, when she came to La Sierra College as a pre-med student. She had speeded through high school and arrived at college as a self-declared “tomboy” with an ambitious spirit.
“The only reason I knew about La Sierra in the first place was because our family doctor had three daughters there and recommended that I join them,” she says. “I thought, why not?”
Marjorie quickly found her niche in college with a group of guys that looked out for her and helped tutor her through difficult subjects. After class, they would often ride on the bumper of a friend’s truck to go get banana splits. When asked whether women were allowed to do that, Walker says, “we just didn’t really discuss it.”
My mother tried to take me out of college after the first year because, according to her, women only needed one year of college. She herself had only gone to grade three,” says Marjorie. “I pushed to stay in, and she finally let me, but I had to support myself. At that time there were no loans, so I worked several jobs to pay for my tuition.”
Marjorie worked in the cafeteria, teaching the male students to cook, and was a teacher’s assistant, running a chemistry class. She graduated in 1945 and applied to medical school, but was not accepted.
“They told me that they only accepted 74 men and 1 woman each year, and they’d already met their female quota, so I had to find something else to do,” she says.
Marjorie was crushed, but she had an uncle with connections at Arizona State University, who helped her find a teaching job there. She taught biochemistry and decided she wanted to get a degree in physics.
“People thought I was kind of weird at that point, because my goal was not to settle down and start a family,” Marjorie says. “What I really wanted to do was learn, support myself, and make money.”
Since Marjorie had a unique educational background, she was hired to work at Caltech’s Co-Op Wind Tunnel in Pasadena, California, a wind propulsion lab where airplane prototypes were tested. Since it was a government position, she had to be cleared by the FBI, but, in the process, they found out something about her.
“When the FBI reviewed my documents, they informed me that I actually had two birth certificates, and that one was forged. Apparently, when I was adopted, my new family created a new birth certificate for me. I realized I actually had two birthdays and had celebrated the wrong one all my life,” says Marjorie, laughing.
Marjorie did well working at Caltech, doing technical writing and managing the wind tunnel controls, but there was one small distraction: a man who worked on the floor with her.
“I had been noticing him, and it wasn’t until a staff Christmas party that we actually met,” she remembers. “He came over and said his name was Bruce. I thought he was really cute.”
Bruce and Marjorie were married in 1952, and both went back to school to study aeronautical engineering. The couple had five children: four boys and a girl. Marjorie quit working on airplanes to teach science at a local school while the children were young.
However, Marjorie couldn’t stay away from adventurous jobs, and soon she went to work for Honeywell, assisting with construction of the ASROC missile for the Navy. From there, she was promoted to be a marketing manager at Aerojet, an aerospace and defense company where she managed 20 male employees.
“I remember a number of the guys weren’t too happy to have a woman as their manager, but after awhile, we started working side by side and they became more supportive,” Marjorie recalls. “As far as women, there was one other one with a master’s in aeronautics, but there were very few women in the industry. Just a couple working in piping.”
Marjorie became very interested in government affairs, even meeting Ronald Reagan at the time he was running for governor. She would write letters to Congress with suggestions. “In fact, I still do,” she said.
Bruce and Marjorie finally got to work together again in their later years on the B-2 (bomber division) at Northrup Grumman. Bruce describes it as “a black program that built spectacular thin bombers that you couldn’t even see coming.”
“Today,” says Bruce, “the B-2 is showcased in a flyover at the Rose Parade each year.” Only 21 were built, at an average cost of more than $700 million each.
The couple finally retired, but still Marjorie couldn’t stay away from her work. “After retirement, I worked for what I believed was an electronics company,” says Marjorie. “Later I found out that I had actually been working for the CIA. After that, I decided it was finally time to quit working.”
Now, at the age of 82, Marjorie considers some of her greatest accomplishments to have been managing her family and career, as well as getting to do everything she wanted to without being held back. She believes that age is immaterial, and she still plans on getting a doctorate someday.