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She made her mark on the Coast Guard
By TERRY JONES
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 27, 2000
SUN CITY CENTER -- The Coast Guard awarded Eleanor L'Ecuyer what was then its highest rank, and not just because she managed to bring some fashion sense to women's uniforms.
L'Ecuyer, 78, served 29 years in the Coast Guard, over four decades, retiring as a captain.
She first enlisted in July 1944 and worked as a pharmacist mate until her discharge in 1946. She returned home to New England and a job as a clerk for Boston Edison Co. In the meantime, she served in the Coast Guard Reserve and enrolled in night school. She completed work for a law degree in June 1950.
"While preparing to take my bar exam, I noticed an article in the paper that the Coast Guard was looking to give direct commissions to vets with additional college after being discharged," she said. "So I called and applied. They gave me some resistance, saying that as a woman I may have trouble passing the examination. I took the test anyway and also took my bar exam."
More than a month passed. On April 1, 1951, she received two letters. One told her she had passed the bar; the other, that she was an ensign on active duty in the Coast Guard.
Officer training was not then geared for women, and L'Ecuyer was commissioned without going through officer's candidate training school.
"They kept calling me back for more physical exams, and I kept having to take time off from my job, which was annoying my overseers," L'Ecuyer said. "Then somehow someone in the Coast Guard realized I was a lawyer, and I was promoted to lieutenant junior grade and put on active duty. I was then stationed in Washington, D.C."
Over time, the men's uniforms were redesigned, but not the women's. L'Ecuyer ventured out on her own to make some impressive changes.
She contacted the legendary Edith Head, then the top fashion designer for Universal Studios in Hollywood.
"Why not go to the best, right?" L'Ecuyer said. "She turned out to be a delightful person and was happy to help, and for free."
Head was under contract with Universal, and the studio required that Coast Guard officials make a formal request for the redesign.
"The changes included the lighter Coast Guard blue, a belt in the back, plus a few other changes," L'Ecuyer said. "She came up with the ascot design, including two stripes on the women's tie."
L'Ecuyer never got to wear the new style; the uniform changes took place after her retirement in 1975.
Since then, she has been active in various community service clubs. The Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce named her Woman of the Year in 1981.
She is president of the Sun Pointe Democratic Club and is active with a group that is working to bring the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal to the Port of Tampa.
"I feel like I had a successful career in the Coast Guard," she said. "I served in command positions, but never as a ship's captain, and I met some very interesting people. Edith Head was one of the most interesting.
"I will always be active in my community as long as I am able, and I am still very pleased about the military career I had."
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