By Mary Alys Cherry
Recently retired Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats got quite a surprise when his JSC pals tossed a retirement party for him Jan. 11 at Space Center Houston.
He felt sure few would come and told JSC Director Ellen Ochoa so. “No one will come,” he insisted.
Imagine his surprise when nearly 600 showed up to give him a grand sendoff – many coming from all over the country.
Folks like NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who jetted down from Washington to honor his former Naval Academy classmate, and former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, who appointed Coats to the JSC post — coming with his wife, Becky, from Huntsville, Ala.
Plus, most of the space agency’s center directors and NASA higher-ups and several members of Coats’ 1978 astronaut class of “35 New Guys” – even two from his first shuttle flight in 1984, Harv Hartsfield and Mike Mullane.
They came not only to praise him but to roast him, and Ochoa, the new director, quickly showed off her great sense of humor.
“We are gathered here to show our appreciation and admiration for an extraordinary leader,” she said.
When we told him we were planning a party, he was against the idea, she explained. ”And, when we told him we were going to have the event anyway, he said he didn’t want to have it; he didn’t think anybody would come. Did we really have someone that foolish as our center director? I guess it is time for a change.”
The crowd loved it.
With JSC Director of Center Operations Joel Walker as the emcee, a rollicking evening ensued with humor mixed with praise as Coats and his wife, Diane, children and grandchildren looked on.
Speakers included Congressman Pete Olson; General Bolden; former JSC deputy director and now Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana; America’s first woman to walk in space and now Assistant Secretary of Commerce Dr. Kathy Sullivan; former astronaut and now Lockheed Martin Vice President Rick Hieb; Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell and Jacobs Engineering General Manager Lon Miller – all praising him for his great leadership during some of JSC’s toughest times.
Bolden presented Coats with NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, calling him “an absolutely outstanding center director — an incredible gentleman.”
Some of the others in the crowd included UH-Clear Lake President Dr. William Staples; Clear Creek ISD Superintendent Dr. Greg Smith and his wife, Kathy; Clear Lake Area Chamber President Cindy Harreld and Vice President Shari Sweeney; retired Clear Lake High basketball coach, Bill Krueger; Space Center Houston President Richard Allen and many from both the business and aerospace community.