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Mary Pensworth Reagor '67
Mathematics and physics
Additional Degrees: M.A., University of Texas Austin; Ph.D., Texas Christian University
Now: Mathematician, Research and Development
While they may not know her name, there are a lot of fighter pilots grateful that Mary Pensworth Reagor ’67 became a mathematician.

She designed a software program that compresses highly complex programming into a processor light enough for installation on fighter aircraft. The practical result allows the pilot to have one less crucial worry—about crashing, especially under fire or stress.

The process called “fuzzy logic” automatically informs the pilot to “pull up” when entering the danger zone. It’s not exaggeration to say the discovery saves lives (and millions of dollars, since even if the pilot bails safely, a destroyed plane is very expensive).

However, the application isn’t limited to aeronautics—its ability to predict outcome could be used in subjects as far-ranging as breast cancer research.

Reagor will be recognized this spring as Outstanding Alumna for Distinguished Career.

After graduating from Agnes Scott, the Oak Ridge, Tenn., native earned her master’s and doctorate at the University of Texas and Texas Christian University, respectively. That led to a lifetime career with nearby aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin (formerly General Dynamics). Reagor diligently created theorems and proofs in the days when computers ran on punch cards, not silicon chips.

Reagor sees beyond the ordinary perception of mathematics as dry numbers shuffling into their appropriate places as “right answers.” Taken far enough, numbers and their outcomes can explain a lot about the universe and most of its creatures. Also, she relishes the challenge of breaking ground in a discipline that was the choice of some of history’s greatest minds.

“It’s only impossible until it’s not,” is one of her favorite sayings. So in spite of her natural grounded demeanor and tendency to credit teams instead of herself, Reagor’s work eventually thrust her into the spotlight.

That application, named the Reagor-Lynn method, was recognized by Lockheed with a 1997 NOVA award, given by the company’s chairman of the board at a ceremony held at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. At the time, the concept was hailed as “a major technology breakthrough … with virtually unlimited military and commercial potential applications.”

In 2002, Reagor was named one of 23 Lockheed-Martin Technical Fellows, the company’s effort to establish a “brain trust” of its most gifted employees who could mentor and pass on their knowledge before retiring. She was the only woman so honored. In 2005, Women in Aerospace awarded her its Outstanding Achievement Award for Technical Excellence.

She and husband, Fred, (a Georgia Tech grad) have two daughters, Mary Kathryn and Erika. Both Mary and Fred still enjoy tutoring high school and college students. In addition to her commercial work, Reagor also taught college math for eight years. Reagor has been an invited speaker at Agnes Scott on several topics, most prominently, the need to encourage more women to pursue careers in math and science.

—Lisa Ashmore
 
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