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Longest-serving civilian to retire after 70 years

Nov. 3, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Ms. Dorothy Rowe, 56th Comptroller Squadron financial analysis chief, holds a photo of her 50th Anniversary luncheon in the Oct. 9, 1993, edition of the Tallyho. She has been working at Luke for 57 years with a total of almost 67 years of service.
Ms. Dorothy Rowe, 56th Comptroller Squadron financial analysis chief, holds a photo of her 50th Anniversary luncheon in the Oct. 9, 1993, edition of the Tallyho. She has been working at Luke for 57 years with a total of almost 67 years of service. ()
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Payday went like this when Dorothy Rowe first went to work in Air Force finance: She’d drive to the bank and pick up enough cash to cover the base payroll — hundreds of thousands of dollars stacked inside big bags. Back at the office, Rowe would count it to make sure all of the money was there. Then she’d divide it up by base section. Finally, she’d count out the pay for every person on base.

Rowe, 88, went to work as a clerk typist at the Columbus Army Depot in Ohio in 1943, two years before World War II ended and four years before the birth of the modern-day Air Force. She came to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., as a military pay clerk 10 years later and never left — until now. After 70 years, Rowe said she figures it’s time to retire.

Rowe, who worked her way up to financial analysis chief of the 56th Comptroller squadron, is the Air Force’s longest-serving civil servant.

Only one other civilian in the Defense Department has worked longer, according to the Air Force. To celebrate Rowe’s lifetime of service, Acting Secretary Eric Fanning planned to preside over her retirement ceremony Nov. 5.

“I’ll miss the people. I’ll miss coming to work every day,” Rowe said in an Air Force Times interview.

Rowe always wanted to be an accountant. In 1942, military representatives showed up at her high school and gave tests to all the juniors and seniors, she said.

“I took the test for a job. I passed it. They offered me a position, but I couldn’t take it because I was still in school. The following year, when I was a senior, they gave the same test,” Rowe said.

She took it again. Again, she passed and was offered a job. This time, she accepted.

“I needed a job. I thought I better take this. At least I’ll have something. So I did. That’s how I started working for the government,” Rowe said.

She still remembers her starting salary: $1,440 a year. For 17-year-old Rowe, it seemed like a lot. Rowe reported to personnel her first day on the job. When the woman who was processing her realized Rowe had forgotten a form, she made Rowe go home and get it. Then she was allowed to start work.

Rowe’s first assignment was a month-long course on the Dewy Decimal System. She next went to work in the Army Depot’s security office as a secretary. When she visited a friend at Luke about a decade later, she learned about a job opening for finance clerk.

“I got it. Then I had to tell my parents I was moving from Ohio to Arizona. It went over like a lead balloon. My mother said, ‘No you are not moving.’ And I said, ‘Mother, I have to; I’ve already accepted the job.’ That’s how I got there.”

Rowe went from working with a 10-key adding machine, ledger books and file cabinets to sleek personal computers.

She has worked through every major conflict since World War II. She has seen racial integration and women break through the ranks.

She considered her coworkers her family because she didn’t have one of her own, Rowe said in a 2010 Air Force interview. But she never expected to stay for 70 years.

“Even today I think, ‘What must I have been thinking?’ I really have enjoyed the job. I enjoyed every minute,” she said. “If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t do one thing different.”

At 88, Rowe is still known as a spirited employee who tells it like it is, her supervisor, Maj. Scott Smith said. “She has never been one known to have a lack of words.”

“With her wealth of knowledge, she’s always looked at as the expert. She is still wicked smart,” Smith said. “On a personal level, she has always taken time to sit down with people to get to know them. She has deep connections with people.”

Rowe is part of their family, too, he said. When she celebrated 50 years in 1993, 180 people came out.

“We had a big to-do,” Rowe recalled. “That’s when I said, well, I got 50 years, I might as well go to 70. Finally, it was going to be 70 years, and I kept my promise. I said I was going to retire, and I am.”

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