Our ties with the Department of the Navy, Office of the Comptroller began in September, 1971. We had submitted two proposals to Navy in March and one to the Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D. C. As a new company, only 18-months old, we were scrambling for business.
We costed the work "as close to the vest" as possible (as Tim Sullivan, our accountant, trusted advisor, and Mary's Dad had advised). We just wanted to offset our expenses and small salaries to our staff and Peter. We didn't even add any profit. We just wanted to get work.
It was crucial at this time to get known to the world--or at least the small world in which we lived--that we existed. Peter had completed several small projects for the Erie School District and the Philadelphia Department of Vocational Studies. We also has a couple of small contracts with Bell Labs that both Mary and Peter were finishing up.
Mary was working on her doctorate in Instructional Technology at the Catholic University of America and had an Assistantship at the School of Education's Curriculum Development Center. We had moved into a new home the previous November and had a beautiful four-year old daughter, Jeanne. Mary was also pregnant with our second child.
Monday, September 20, 1971, our second beautiful daughter, Alice Cecelia, was born.
On September 22nd, we got a call from the Comptroller's Office telling us we were among the top companies in the running to get both the Joint Uniform Military Pay System (JUMPS) and the Navy Industrial Fund (NIF) contracts. We had sent in proposals for each of these months before.
The slowly moving cogs of the Navy wheels were finally moving. Larry Mann, the Project Manager in the Comptroller's Office wanted us to meet with him and his staff personally so they could evaluate us and our ability to do the work, especially since we would be working on two projects simultaneously. The date they had available was Friday, September 25th. Mary was still in the hospital recovering from the birth when the call came. In those days, the doctors wanted to make sure both mother and child were doing well before they were sent home. Mary was released on Thursday morning.
Mary's parents, Alice and Tim Sullivan, had come to Maryland from Pennsylvania to help in whatever way they could. Tim was also ESF's CPA and close financial advisor. He had helped advise Peter and Mary how to write cost proposals in response to RFPs, including the ones for both Navy projects. He was also very connected to the Navy through his stint in the Coast Guard during World War II. He had sustained a crippling injury while on board a ship when his leg was caught in a rope attached to an anchor thrown over board. That injury had hospitalized him for two years in the Veteran's Hospital in Philadelphia.
Mary was grateful that her parents were in town and asked her father to go to the Navy meeting to support Peter. Peter was delighted to have Tim's support, but begged Mary to go to the meeting also. She had done much of the preliminary research on the project and would be a valuable asset, Peter argued.
Thus, a day after leaving the hospital, Mary joined Peter and Tim in the Comptroller's Office. The Director of Training for the Comptroller's Office, the Project Directors, the Contractor from the Legal Office, and the Assistant Comptroller gathered in a tiny office to welcome us. After they shook hands with Peter and Tim, they almost closed the door until they realized the woman with them was also attending the meeting. They were surprised to see her for it was quite unusual for a women to attend contract negotiation (or any high-level) meetings. They grilled Peter (virtually ignoring Mary's presence) about ESF's Instructional Development Learning (IDLS) Process: why is better than other companies' processes? How will ESF manage the workload of two projects? How can ESF come in at a cost much lower than their competitors? All normal questions. Peter had ready answers.
Their final question, however, was more personal, but typical for that time period: What if you can't make the project deadlines if Mary gets pregnant or can't work because your children get sick or injured? In those days, many companies automatically assumed that once women (even those with degrees) had children, they remained at home to care for the children.
Peter saw that Mary was steaming, but holding her tongue so she wouldn't give them a scathing speech about a woman's right to equality in the workplace. Mary was not a card-bearing Women's Libber, but felt women had an equal right to earn a place beside, not behind, their male counterparts. And she was working hard to do just that. These Navy men knew none of that.
Until Peter told them.
"I just want you to know what kind of woman Mary is," he began. "Mary not only runs ESF, but she is in her final year of earning a Ph.D. in Instructional Technology from The Catholic University of America. She also holds an Assistantship at the Curriculum Center at CUA, is studying for her Comprehensive Doctoral Exams in October, is drafting her Doctoral Dissertation, and...". He paused to take Mary's hand. "We already have a four-year old daughter...". He paused again as he prepared to deliver his punch line (a pregnant pause, if you will)... Now smiling as only a new father can beam with pride and love, continued: "She just came home from the hospital with our second daughter who was born on Monday." We watched each jaw drop as they took in the significance of that statement.
In a stage whisper, Tim said, "Wonder if the other contractors can compete with that."
The Navy men stood (Peter swears they saluted), shook all our hands, and signed the contracts right then and there. What more could they say? Except hearty congratulations all around.