Every October, Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) joins the nation in celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a month dedicated to bringing awareness to a disease that has rocked the core of both women and men alike. Breast cancer is a disease in which maligned (cancer) cells from within the tissues of the breast develop a mass that forms a lump, growth, or tumor. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Though it’s rare and affects less than one percent of all known cases, men are also susceptible to this disease. Because of this and the importance of detection, efforts during the month of October go directly into research for causes, prevention methods, diagnosis, treatments and the cure for breast cancer.
For Oct. 2020, NNSY wanted to take a moment to reflect on the recent passing of one of our history’s biggest advocates for Breast Cancer Awareness and Prevention, and the impact she brought to her fellow shipyarders – Alfreda “Frieda” McCray.
McCray had been part of the shipyard family for more than 35 years, officially beginning her journey April 4, 1974. “Frieda was a champion and a great influence to those around her,” said former coworker Marilyn Dixon-Grant. The two had met in 1979 in a training course and quickly became friends. Dixon-Grant said that McCray was always enthusiastic and excited to be part of each new day with her NNSY family. “She was able educate rising shipyard apprentices and employees on working beyond their believed capabilities. She knew the importance of her students working together to achieve their academic goals and was able to foster a working relationship with each of her students who wanted to excel in the shipyard.” She added that McCray also spearheaded community outreach programs, such as the Personal Partnership Excellence Programs (PPEP), Angel Tree Drive, and more.
Dixon-Grant continued, “Frieda had a profound connection with women in and around the shipyard. She wanted women to know they could aspire and achieve at any level. In addition, she was a huge advocate for our breast cancer survivors. Frieda encouraged those women to continue to share their stories and ensured that they knew that they always had a family at NNSY. It was her mission to help our survivors flourish and thrive – especially every October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As the Federal Women’s Program (FWP) Chairperson, she knew there was hope for those survivors who felt alone and afraid to share their stories. She helped them all feel heard; feel appreciated, and helped bring awareness to the shipyard at large.”
Code 900R Project Resource Manager Zuleika “May” Aldegeon shared, “I met Miss Frieda in 1998, when she was one of my apprenticeship mentors. She mentored me not only at work, but throughout life. She helped me unlock so much untouched potential within myself that I did not know I possessed. She helped me as I transitioned from the military to the waterfront. She was a pathfinder for most women in the shipyard. Failure and quitting was not an option. Many days I wanted to quit as a female in the shipyard, but she would impart so much wisdom, prayers and unconditional love in me that I fought for my place, and now 22 years later, I am glad that I didn’t give up. She was one of my best friends and a mother figure. Ms. Frieda was full of life and would assist ANYONE who requested or required her mentorship, an ear, or wisdom.”
Code 740 Quality Assurance Manager Lolita Lea said, “I recalled meeting Frieda when I came to work in Shop 72 in 1987. She was truly a sweet and warm lady, who was always willing to help anyone. She was genuinely a true friend. As years past, she became another “loving family member” to my entire family and me. She became my big sister! We shared so many memorable moments together. I was grateful for her support as a big sister, when I was experiencing some trying times. When my 2 month old son was diagnosed with cancer, she was right there with me through it all and he is now 16 years old and doing fine. My son, family, and I are so grateful for her beautiful support. I will forever be thankful for her kindness, love and compassion during those uncertain days in my life. Before retirement, I observed how she became a driving force in and around NNSY. Frieda was indeed a shipyard icon! She made a difference in the lives of many shipyard employees and managers. Her hands-on knowledge and leadership skills with shipyard apprentices were not overlooked. She gave us all hope that we could work and learn beyond our potential.”
McCray retired in 2014 and spent her time following continuing her efforts outside NNSY’s gates. The next year, McCray discovered she had breast cancer and began her treatments. “Frieda was unstoppable even then, and continued to encourage and support other survivors, even as she set out on her own breast cancer journey,” said Dixon-Grant. “Frieda’s pep talks and her vision for a better day for shipyard women inspired me to move forward. She wanted women to have exposure and visibility in the workforce. Many times, she told us we were winners and overcomers. She was indeed a true friend, who left an impressive impact on me. She will be truly missed.”
Frieda passed away from breast cancer Aug. 28, 2020; however, her legacy remains as strong as ever from her efforts in life. The FWP and many others whom McCray influenced during her time here work hard to bring awareness to this disease and host events to help spread the word. For example, the FWP sponsored the Chesapeake Regional Healthcare Breast Center in bringing in their 3D Mobile Mammography Unit, allowing employees to schedule screenings while on the installation.
“Both the Waterfront Ombudsman and Community Outreach Committees ensure that FWP maintains a strong focus on the health and well-being of the workforce,” said Carlynn Lucas, a member and former chairperson of the FWP. “Among their many initiatives are the progress we are making together to defeat breast cancer. We will continue to uphold the legacy of Frieda McCray in our future programs and projects with a focus on awareness - breast health seminars, prevention- screening via mobile mammography mobile, support- showing solidarity/unity of cancer patients, as well as survivors and honor- remembering those lost to the disease.”
“There are so many things that can be expressed in regards to who Frieda McCray was, but to put it simply; she was an instructor, a mentor, a leader for change; she encouraged all those she touched to do their very best, no matter what their career aspirations. She was very spiritual in her beliefs, was a faithful friend to many, but above all, faithful to GOD,” said Code 301.11 Ships Force Training Liaison April Dotson. “Frieda will always hold a special place in my heart. She was my instructor, my mentor, but above all, she was a truly special friend. We that were close with her, already miss her dearly. She will forever be in our hearts.”
To learn more about this disease and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month.