Named the first female chief ranger at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in spring 2019, Lisa Hendy ’90 knows what it takes to be a leader. Today, she is in charge of emergency operations for the park, which covers 800 square miles and is the country’s busiest national park. But her career in park service spans decades and features roles at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Arches, and Rocky Mountains National Park. In 2011, she received the prestigious Harry Yount National Park Ranger Award, a peer-nominated honor and one of the highest recognitions a park ranger can receive, and in 2007, she received the Intermountain Region Exemplary Service Award for lifesaving efforts in Grand Canyon National Park.
No two days on the job are alike for Hendy, who may engage in a dangerous rescue mission one day and encounter exotic wildlife the next, but that’s what keeps it exciting. We asked her why she loves what she does, what she’s most proud of, and how her time at GPS made an impact.
Q. Why are you passionate about what you do?
A. We have the best mission of any federal agency. "To protect and preserve for the enjoyment of future generations..." This includes all of the nation's greatest treasures, from its spectacular landscape to its sacred battlefields to places like Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty. Who doesn't want to get behind that?
Q. What was your favorite tradition at GPS? Why?
A. Singing the “Alma Mater” in chapel with everyone in their class-colored uniforms swaying arm in arm. We were in the old West Gym for chapel back then, and it resonated through the echo chamber.
Q. If you could offer one piece of advice to current GPS students, what would it be?
A. Don't let anyone ever tell you you cannot do something—no matter how it may look. The minute you believe you cannot, you cannot.
Q. Do you stay in touch with your classmates? What impact have they had on your life?
A. Some of them—they are good for comic relief! Seriously, there is perspective that comes from someone who has known you since you were 12. No matter how "big" you get in the eyes of anyone else, you will always be the person who almost dropped a Latin book on their head from your locker shelf while they were tying their shoes.
Q. Can you point to anything that GPS did to prepare you for your future?
A. Two most important things: How to write and how to study. With that you can get anywhere you need to go.
Q. What is your proudest accomplishment thus far?
A. The work that I have done to improve the safety of emergency responders across the National Park Service. Few people understand that we have responsibility in the big parks for law enforcement, search and rescue, EMS, wildland fire, and structural fire. We have aircraft and watercraft and all manner of technical skills to extricate people from the wildest terrain this continent has to offer. That comes with real risk. I have had the privilege to be in a position to be that responder in some of the wildest missions we have ever had, and also to implement mitigation strategies first in the individual parks and now nationally to help keep people safe out there.
Most recently, I served as the DOI Deputy Chief of Operations, a role that allowed me to ensure 230 law enforcement Rangers received sufficient crowd control and civil disturbance response training prior to us being deployed on the Mall for the Inauguration. It is a wild career, and it gives me great pleasure to look out for these guys so they get to enjoy it as long as they want too.
Q. Are there any quotes that really resonate with you/guide you in your daily pursuits?
A. "It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind."—Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.
Q. Are there any experiences or memories from your time at GPS that really stick out?
A. I was the kid whose parents dropped them off early and picked them up late because of their work schedules. Even when I could drive, I shared a car with my stepbrother, who was the same age at Baylor, so I still had to wait for my dad to pick me up many days. I would walk the halls and talk to everyone. It didn't matter what year in school they were or anything. I knew everyone, even if I didn't hang out with everyone. I loved that. It was one great big school but it never seemed too big.