Gail H. McGinn '73

Former highest ranking civilian woman in the Department of Defense

Now one of the highest ranking civilian women in the Department of Defense, Gail McGinn was born in East St. Louis, Ill., and raised as a military child. She lived in many locations in the U.S. and abroad, and spoke fluent Danish as a child on the playgrounds of Odense, Denmark. At William Smith she participated in Judicial Board and was on the Echo and Pine staff before she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in psychology. She earned a master's degree in education from Boston University. 

Throughout her life, McGinn has epitomized the William Smith ideal of a woman pioneering in her field as she has worked toward the benefit of soldiers and their families.

After graduation, McGinn held a number of positions in the drug and alcohol field, specializing in community prevention, family treatment, and education programs. From there she became the director of program analysis and evaluation at the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center, where she developed policy and long-range plans for Army quality of life programs and directed a multi-million dollar Army Family Research Program. 

She worked with the Army on a special task force that created an Army Family White Paper and Action Plan that fundamentally changed the Army's approach to supporting the soldier's family.

McGinn joined the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 1988 and became a member of the Senior Executive Service of the Department of Defense in 1992, as the principal director for personnel support, families and education. She was the senior career official responsible for policy oversight of the Department of Defense community quality of life program, including the operation of a K-12 Department of Defense school system overseas and in the United States, and a commissary and military exchange system to supply groceries and goods to military personnel and their families worldwide. 

McGinn has provided personal leadership to the planning and development of programs geared to military family support, child development, family advocacy and domestic violence prevention, and casualty and mortuary affairs policies. She led a special effort to design a military funeral honors program for our nation's veterans.

She then served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy before being appointed Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Plans. As such, she provides advice and assistance to the Under Secretary on the management of military and civilian personnel programs affecting over 2 million service members and employees, and coordinates the Department of Defense activities in support of the President's Management Agenda. 

Nearly a year ago, she was appointed the Senior Language Authority for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, to improve foreign language capability within the Department of Defense. She also assists the Under Secretary in facilitating the activities and policy outcomes of the Joint Task Force on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and develops policies and approaches to address sexual assault within the Armed Forces. 

McGinn has received many honors for furthering the well-being of soldiers, their families and national defense. She is a two-time recipient of the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award. Her other awards include the Secretary of Defense Awards for Distinguished Civilian Service, Meritorious Civilian Service and for Exceptional Civilian Service, as well as the Department of the Army decoration for Meritorious Civilian Service, the Commander's Award for Civilian Service, and the Order of the White Plume.

She returned to her alma mater in 1997 to give the Founder's Day address. She is married to Larry McGinn, who is retired from the U.S. Army.