A Career in Flight

A Career in Flight

A photo of a jet passenger plane in flight

Engineer Thomas H. Gray (BSEE ‘61) helped Boeing aircraft fly right

By Amanda Gardner

Thomas Gray’s life story is equally the story of modern air travel. During his 34-year career with The Boeing Company, Gray, who graduated from UNM with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1961, was a flight test engineer on almost every Boeing commercial aircraft, from the 707 through the 767. In February 1969, he also became the first nonpilot to fly on the first 747, when the new jet took flight from its birthplace in Everett, Wash., to Seattle.

Transportation is in Gray’s blood. Both his father and his grandfather worked on the railroad, his father as a porter for the Pullman Company on the fabled Santa Fe Super Chief running from Chicago to L.A.

At Pullman, porters made beds and did housekeeping in the sleeper cars, often catering to Hollywood stars making their way across the country.

On other rail lines, Black brakemen like Gray’s grandfather were also known as porters.

His grandmother and mother sold box lunches to train travelers stopping in Albuquerque who couldn’t afford the local Fred Harvey restaurant. That’s how his mother met Gray ’s father.

Gray’s own love affair with transportation began long before he entered UNM. Growing up off Lead and Broadway, he was not only next to the train tracks, but he was also not far from Kirtland Air Force Base. As troops mobilized to fight in World War II, “I watched all the planes going off to war from the end of Kirtland’s runway,” he remembers.

After graduating from Albuquerque High School, Gray enrolled at UNM. He was one of only a few Black students at a time when UNM had just started recruiting Black football players, including his friends Don Perkins (’60 BA), who became a running back for the Dallas Cowboys, and Edward Lewis (’64 BA, ’66 MA), who went on to co-found Essence Magazine.

During the summers, Gray worked as a chair car attendant on the Santa Fe Railroad Superliners, the El Capitan and the Chief.

Gray joined the New Mexico Air National Guard before his UNM graduation and later transferred and served in the Washington State Air National Guard when he moved to Seattle.

Boeing recruited Gray soon after he graduated from UNM at “the ground floor of the Jet Age,” he recalls. His job was to design and install instrumentation equipment required to monitor and record all the aircraft parameters involved in flight testing each new aircraft model. As a flight test engineer and crew member his role was to monitor and tape record in flight the data from multiple sensors spread all over the aircraft to measure data ­— aerodynamic performance such as airspeed, altitude and control surface positions — not normally collected on a production version of the same aircraft.

In the mid 1960s Gray was loaned out to the Advanced Marine Systems organization to work on the instrumentation in Boeing’s jet-powered research hydrofoil, which involved test runs up and down Puget Sound. Gray found that flying a wing under water was quite different than an airfoil in the atmosphere.

He returned to the Commercial Aviation Division when Boeing started flight testing the first 737 aircraft in 1966 which was followed by the 747, 757 and 767 programs.

Over the years, flight testing has changed. “On the first 747, we had 700 measurements to evaluate the aircraft performance,” he says. Today, flight test engineers are able to record and study some 20,000 different measurements due to advances in digital and computer technology.

Along with Boeing and the rest of the world, Gray then joined the Space Age. In 1977, Gray participated in the space shuttle Enterprise landing tests at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Photo of Thomas Gray at the Seattle Museum of Flight standing in front of a plane

“With the Space Shuttle development, engineers came up with a plan to carry and launch the shuttle from atop a 747,” he remembers. “We actually put our test equipment in the 747 carrier aircraft and Boeing structural engineers and mechanics reinforced the top of the 747 to carry the weight of the shuttle.”

Over the years, Gray has brushed with fame and history, having been on a test program on the airplane that became the Air Force One that flew President John F. Kennedy to Dallas and where Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office after JFK’s assassination there. He had been on flight tests with space shuttle astronauts Dick Scobee, Judy Resnik and Sally Ride.

He even flew a 747 once — holding the controls for four minutes while the pilot stepped away to use the restroom.

Gray says he was never nervous taking jets up for their first flights, and all of his test flights went off without a hitch, except one — on July 5, 1974, when he was doing brake testing on a new 747 aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base.

“The test requirements were to do what is called a ‘refused takeoff’,” he says. “The pilot gets the fully fueled 747 up to takeoff speed and then uses the brakes to bring the airplane to a full stop on the runway.”

Due to the high energy stop, the fiery brakes disintegrated, and the 16 tires started exploding and burning. “That gets your attention really quick when you’re sitting at a monitor station in the middle of the aircraft,” Gray recalls.

Gray used the emergency escape ladder while tire debris was still flying around him. In the commotion he missed the bottom ladder rungs, which resulted in a brief hospital stay. Fortunately, no bones were broken. “Flying on test airplanes was a lot safer,” he says.

Gray retired in 1995 and is now a docent at the Seattle Museum of Flight and a member of the Sam Bruce Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., an organization that preserves the heritage of the original Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. He and his wife, Nyra, have two sons and two grandchildren.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Gray’s commitment to UNM, which he calls his “neighborhood school.” This is reflected in his contributions to the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department and his service as a past president of the Seattle Chapter and past board member of the UNM Alumni Association.

“He’s from New Mexico no matter where he is,” Nyra says.

Breaking Boundaries

Breaking Boundaries

Allison and Ann in San Diego

A Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Honors a Courageous UNM Alumna

By Hilary Mayall Jetty

Burden. The word seared into Anne Thomas’ consciousness as she struggled to cope with her new reality. She’d been an independent, adventurous 18-year-old hitchhiking through Europe in 1976, when a car accident left her paralyzed from the chest down. And now a doctor was suggesting that this former college athlete resign herself to life in a nursing home to avoid being a burden to her family.

Thomas deeply resented and resisted this attempt to label her. Disability and adversity tested her patience and resolve throughout her life. Yet her determination to break though physical, psychological and societal barriers, for herself and others facing similar challenges, led to remarkable personal and professional achievements. Her family established the Anne B. Thomas No Bounds Scholarship at UNM after her death in 2019, to honor her accomplishments and provide tuition assistance for undergraduate students with disabilities. They managed to endow the fund with the help of family, friends and former colleagues, and a few bake sales.

Thomas was known as a brilliant, gutsy woman with a kind heart and a wicked sense of humor. Born in the same year as Thomas’ accident, Allison Yabroff’s earliest childhood memories of her beloved Auntie Anne always included a wheelchair. “It was just something that was there,” she said, “but it didn’t define her in any way in my eyes. She was always so loving and fun to be around, eager to talk, play games and tell jokes.”

In 1977, Thomas completed rehab in California. She wanted to finish her undergraduate degree, which she’d begun in Washington, D.C., before her accident. Yabroff’s family was living in Albuquerque. “The Americans with Disabilities Act wasn’t passed until 1990,” she recalled, “and most places were very hard to get around. But UNM was a much more accessible campus, with elevators and ramps, so Anne decided to give it a go.”

After earning her BA, Thomas received her JD from the UNM School of Law in 1983. She learned to drive with hand controls, enjoyed being involved in the university community, and fell in love with New Mexico. “This was the place where she regained her independence,” Yabroff noted. “Once she had her accident, she was dependent on family, friends and doctors. When she came to Albuquerque, to UNM, she really restarted her life.” 

Throughout her career, Thomas worked and traveled far beyond New Mexico’s borders. A fierce advocate for equality, inclusion and justice, she served as a civil rights attorney, dispute resolution expert and leadership development professional. She worked at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington during the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Thomas happily returned to Albuquerque in 1990 to serve in the UNM Office of Equal Opportunity, eventually becoming its director. She worked on cases of sexual harassment, and pioneered domestic partnership rights on campus for employees. An opportunity to lead the World Bank’s offices of diversity training and employee mediation disputes took her back to D.C. in 2000.

However, in addition to the trials of life in a wheelchair, Thomas had been diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia, a bone marrow disorder. The illness eventually forced her to stop working, and prevented her from returning to the high desert home she cherished. True to her nature, she looked toward a more distant horizon, enrolled in an improv class and discovered a talent for storytelling. This creative passion enabled her to connect with people in new and deeper ways as she revealed her personal experiences. In 2013 she won the National Storytelling Festival Slam.

Far from being a burden to anyone, Thomas lived a full life, with no bounds. She found love, traveled the world, learned to ski and scuba dive, and adored dancing. Although she wasn’t able to realize her dream of returning to Albuquerque in retirement, her legacy will endure. Yabroff and her family are continuing to raise awareness and funds to increase the scholarship’s impact.

“UNM made such a difference in Anne’s life,” said Yabroff. “We’re trying to help lower some barriers that individuals with disabilities often encounter with respect to accessing higher education, like tuition, books and housing. Many students with disabilities face an increased cost of living and reduced employment opportunities. We want to provide support, and carry on Anne’s legacy.”

If you’d like to support to the Anne B. Thomas No Bounds Scholarship, you may do so by visiting www.unmfund.org/anne-b-thomas.

Old Friends

Old Friends

Photo of the exterior of Hodgin Hall looking West

Old Friends

Socioemotional selectivity theory proposes that people shift their social behavior from a focus on forming new friends in youth to maintaining a smaller network of close, fulfilling relationships in old age.

“The proposal is that this shift happens because of our human ability to monitor our own personal time horizons — how much time we have left in our life — which causes us to prioritize emotionally fulfilling relationships when time is perceived to be running out,” says Martin Muller, associate professor of anthropology at UNM.

Then, what about other aging primates?

Muller and colleague Melissa Emery Thompson, associate professor of anthropology and co-director of the Comparative Human and Primate Physiology Center, looked to 20 years of behavioral data from the Kanyawara chimpanzee community living in Kibale National Park in Uganda for an answer.

Their study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, found that wild chimpanzees, like humans, increasingly prioritized mutual and equitable friendships with others that invested in them as they got older. Younger adult chimps, by contrast, were more likely to form lopsided relationships where their partner did not reciprocate. Older chimpanzees also were more likely to be seen alone, but tended to socialize more with important partners when they did join the group.

There were other similarities between senior chimps and humans.

Graduate student Drew Enigk went through large numbers of aggressive interactions among the chimpanzees to see who won and lost fights, and who was submissive to whom. He then assigned dominance ranks. Just as humans do, chimps interacted in increasingly positive ways as they got older.

“A large psychological literature suggests that in humans, old age leads to a focus on existing close relationships, increased attention to and memory for positive social interactions and reduced engagement in tension and conflict,” Muller says. “When the end is near, people accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. While that may partly be true, our data suggest that something more fundamental may be happening with the aging process.”

Assuming that wild chimpanzees, unlike humans, are not conscious of their impending mortality, shared patterns between chimpanzees and humans could represent an adaptive response where older adults focus on important social relationships that provide benefits and avoid interactions that have negative consequences as they lose competitive fighting ability.

Muller studies chimpanzee behavior and physiology to gain insight into the evolution of human behavior and physiology and believes his study may help understand how humans age.

Photo of two monkeys sitting together

Alumni Network

Alumni Network

Photo of the exterior of Hodgin Hall looking West

Alumni Network

UNM Alumni Association President Chad Cooper (’01 MBA) and Vice President of Alumni Relations Connie Beimer (’76 BA, ’79 MPA) hit the road with Lobo Louie and Lucy to spread Lobo Spirit for Homecoming 2020.

Baby Aubree, niece of Paige Klostermann, Assistant Athletic Director for Annual Giving for UNM Athletics, is dressed in her Lobo finest.

Amanda Armenta (’02 BBA, ’03 MBA) and Allan Armenta (’04 BFA, ’06 MBA) with their kids Cyan and Atticus are ready for Homecoming at home with all their Cherry and Silver Lobo gear. Go Lobos!

UNM Alumni Association President Chad Cooper (’01 MBA) and President-Elect Mike Silva (’95 BA) help dress up Albuquerque’s neighborhoods with Lobo yard signs for Homecoming 2020.

Lobo Louie and Lucy thank our health care heroes at UNM Hospital as part of Homecoming 2020 festivities.

Apollonia Trujillo Gallegos (’08 BA) shows her Lobo pride at the beach in Southern California.

My Alumni Story – Griff Lamar

My Alumni Story – Griff Lamar

Photo of the exterior of Hodgin Hall looking West

My Alumni Story – Griff Lamar

I was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base when I took my first college course via the base education center. At the time I wasn’t sure if college was the best route for me. But shortly after completing my Air Force tenure I got in touch with the Veteran & Military Resource Center at The University of New Mexico. The help and resources they provided gave me confidence to start my journey at UNM. Initially, I wasn’t sure which degree program to follow. I have a passion for creating music, but I also wanted to cast a wide net for job opportunities. I decided on a degree that would make me marketable for an “everyday job” while providing me with the knowledge and skill set essential to marketing myself as an artist: Enter the Marketing Management BBA. While studying at the Anderson School of Management, I learned about the ins and outs of market research, applying marketing strategies and marketing management.

Since graduating, my degree has provided me with the opportunity to work with disabled veterans. Additionally, I’ve applied the marketing skills I acquired as a student to pursue my passion as an artist, such as networking, social media marketing and designing/promoting my own apparel. Although I recently moved to Dallas, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the culture of UNM as part of my story. I very much look forward to continuing to utilize my education to establish myself as an artist/entrepreneur. You can hear my music on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and all other streaming platforms; just search ‘Griff Lamar.’ You can also find me on Instagram @grifflamar22.

Everyone’s a LOBO!

Griff Lamar (’17 BBA)

Photo of Griff Lamar

Pin It on Pinterest