Meet NASA’s Betty Crocker

Betty Cain worked with astronauts and fought for change

When faced with adversity, Betty Cain doesn’t back down.

Cain’s photo for Celanese Chemical Company in
Houston, her first civilian job after returning home.

Cain is a proud veteran who served four years in the U.S. Navy. However, her service
was nearly cut short when she got married and pregnant.

“The Navy I loved said, ‘Adios!’” said Cain, now 75. “I said to myself, ‘This isn’t right.’”
Cain spent the next decade writing letters to the Secretary of the Navy, the president,
senators and congressman, disputing the decision and advocating for women in the
service.

“I told them they were discriminating against mothers,” she added. “It took them 10
years to realize they were wrong. Got a letter from Richard Nixon saying, ‘You’re right.
Come on back.’”

She was the first mother in the state of Texas to re-enlist, and the third in the nation.

Woman of the Year
Now a single mom, Cain was sent to San Diego to attend Radioman “A” School in 1974.
She excelled in the program, finishing the 14-week course in just 21 days. The
achievement was a first for the school, according to Cain.

She went on to be the first female instructor of the school. She instructed four
companies of 25 students in all phases of Navy communications, including procedures,
equipment operation, security and maintenance. Classes taught by Cain saw a 35
percent increase in student graduation.

“My commander was so impressed, he wanted to know how I was doing it,” Cain said.
“He sent a copy of the lesson plan to the Secretary of Naval Education and Training.”
Cain was named the U.S. Navy’s Woman of the Year in 1976 for creating standards and
comprehensive student instruction guidelines that were implemented.

While attending school in San Diego, Cain’s son, Jeff, stayed with her parents in
Houston. He befriended the neighbor’s wolf/collie mix, who loved the young boy. The
neighbor was Bill, who became Cain’s husband now of 45 years.

Bill had also spent some time in the Navy, including serving on the USS Oriskany,
which was the same ship that John McCain served on as a Navy pilot.

The family moved back to San Diego together so that Cain could continue with her
schooling. Upon graduating from high school, Jeff enlisted in the Navy as well.

“When he was 9, he said he wanted to be in the Navy just like his mother,” said Cain.
“We were just a real tight Navy family.”


Astronauts’ Betty Crocker
After her time in the Navy, Cain eventually made her way to NASA working for
government contractor Rockwell International at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Jeff eventually came to work for NASA as well, and the mother and son got to see each
other on campus daily.

Cain held a number of titles while working her way up at NASA…until she was
wrongfully terminated yet again.

“One day, my boss at the time decided to cover up actions of using government
equipment for her after-hours classes and using us as her secretaries,” Cain said. “I
brought it to her attention that I didn’t think it was right. She brought the complaint up to
Rockwell, and they fired me.”

As Cain puts it, she “got back up on her soapbox once again.” It took six weeks of
writing letters to officers and the chairman of the board of Raytheon, but ultimately they
agreed she was wrongfully terminated. When she came back to work at NASA, she was
given a 31 percent increase in salary, a bump in status and went to work alongside the
astronauts as crew activity manager.

“Everybody who worked as a contractor for NASA wanted to be close to the astronauts,”
Cain said. “I scheduled all the training for a team of astronauts once they were
scheduled for a flight. I even scheduled their dental appointments, their anniversary
parties, their kids’ school plays. For 24 hours a day, I had them in my hands. Most
coordinators were carrying one crew. I had four.”

Cain often cooked lunch for the astronauts so that they could eat while they learned and
get more training hours in.

“They called me Betty Crocker,” she recalled. “Everyone wanted to be on Betty’s crew.
The astronauts often flew things into space for me, and my computer room is filled with
all the flight photos signed by the astronauts.”

Trading navy cap for red hat
Then, tragedy struck when Jeff was killed outside a club in San Antonio just 10 days
before his 25th birthday. A misunderstanding while waiting for a friend resulted in a
security guard shooting and killing him.

Cain learned that, at the time, parents of adult murder victims had no rights in the state
of Texas.

“I fought that, too. We got the case changed and set a precedent,” Cain said. “Now
parents like me—whose child was murdered—they now have a voice in court.”

It pained her to do it, but Cain left her job at NASA in order to grieve her son.

“Having my one and only child murdered was pretty tough. But I couldn’t grieve for him
because I was too busy. So I finally decided I had to leave,” she said.

She and Bill moved back to Oklahoma, then relocated to Colorado in 1999.
These days, Cain keeps busy with her local Red Hat Society club—the Delightful
Dazzling Divas.

“We wear purple clothes, big red hats and bling it up as much as possible,” Cain said.
“Our motto is: Live, love, laugh—and that’s what we all need is a laugh—but eat dessert
first.”

Cain and fellow club members uphold this motto even as COVID-19 temporarily stalls
the club’s meetings. Members still meet via Zoom as much as possible, and small
groups have gotten together a few times for lunch in recent months.

Cain said her faith and Navy service helped her to never give up when facing life’s
hurdles.

“The Navy taught me how to handle adversity,” she said. “I’ve always been a person
that believes in the Lord and reads the Bible, and I try to apply it to my life.”
She referenced Matthew 6: “You have not, because you ask not.”

“So, I ask Him to help me get through this, point me in the right direction and tell me
what to do,” said Cain. “I always wanted what I was fighting for. I think I made a
difference in a bunch of peoples’ lives.”

Cain keeps busy with her local Red Hat Society
club, the Delightful Dazzling Divas.

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