Fredda S. Blackmon Bryan was a humanitarian and a community legend. Her career accomplishments began in 1985, when she joined the United States Navy.
Bryan later made history as one of the first African American woman air traffic controllers to advance to the rank of senior chief petty officer.
While most remember Bryan for her role in history, family and friends look back at her life legacy.
Bryan was born on September 30, 1965 at North Carolina’s Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Her family later settled near Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California where she was raised by her step father, Frank Ferguson and mother May Tagupa Blackmon.
Later, she attended El Camino High School. There she graduated and went on to follow in her step father’s footsteps by enlisting in the military. Bryan had hopes of earning a medical degree. However, after taking an aptitude test, which proved she had the organizational and multitasking skills to become an air traffic controller, she decided to embrace the field.
After a 22-year naval career, she retired honorably in 2007.
Bryan saw her retirement as the beginning of a new chapter in life.
She began devoting her life full-time to a volunteer position at the American Cancer Society in Virginia. Later she began working as a supervisor and community health advisor in Virginia Beach, VA.
At the time, Bryan had been battling breast cancer since receiving her diagnosis in the early 2000’s, yet she remained strong.
Bryan turned her illness into power by continuing to uplift others while fighting to improve healthcare access and cancer outcomes for people of color in the South Atlantic region.
“She was a very strong and vocal advocate for the American Cancer Society,” said Bryan’s childhood friend Trina Lloyd.
“[Bryan] took on all the challenges in educating minorities, men, and those who lived in underserved counties, she also worked on some legislation with governors for cancer awareness.”
During her time working for the American Cancer Society, she was awarded the Fredda Bryan Diversity Visionary Award, named in her honor.
Aside from working with the health organization, Bryan was also a dedicated member of Grove Church in Portsmouth, VA, the National Association of Black Military Women, South Hampton Roads Pan-Hellenic Council, the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, the local Urban League, as well as many other organizations.
Out of all of her career accomplishments and volunteer work, her greatest joy by far was the birth son D’Angelo Applewhite. As a single mother, she took pride in raising her son and teaching him many life lessons. The two lived together in her home in Chesapeake, VA.
“She was loving, driven, and persevering. One of the strongest life lessons I gained from her, was respect and manners,” said of 27-year-old Applewhite.
After numerous doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, undergoing radiation, surgeries and more than a dozen chemotherapy regimens, Bryan continued to hold her head high.
“You couldn’t put an expiration date on her, when [the doctors] told her she had cancer, it was just like when they told her she was going to be an air traffic controller. She learned everything about it, she excelled it and [the cancer] wasn’t going to have her,” said Lloyd.
Last spring, she learned that she had “exhausted all means of treatment.” Bryan refused to tell any of her close friends and family that she was dying. Instead she continued to walk with, “dignity and a calm and quite strength,” refusing to let cancer take over her life. On June, 1, 2017, she passed away at the age of 51 after a 15-year battle with stage 4 cancer.
Although her physical body is gone, her spirit lives on through the legacy of her work. In honor of her hard work and dedication, the city of Oceanside has officially designated September 30, Fredda S. Blackmon Bryan Day, the same date as her birthday.
Public officials and residents joined Bryan’s family and friends at the El Corazon Senior Center at 3302 Senior Center Drive in Oceanside, CA for a ceremony to honor and signify her life’s work. Speakers included resident Shelby Jacobs, one of the first and few Black engineers who worked on NASA’s Apollo project, former Oceanside Mayor Terry Johnson. Bryan also received letters from California Senator Kamala Harris and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe as well as many others.
“She was a very humble person who never gave herself enough credit,” said Marine veteran and father of Bryan, Frank Ferguson in an interview. “But I am so proud of all the things she did. She was a strong-willed person and very caring. She lived to help others.”
Lloyd says that Bryan leaves behind a legacy of hard work and dedication.
“She always excelled at what she did, she always gave 120 percent. If she did something she did it well and she was dedicated to it,” said Lloyd.