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Remembering the Grace, Service and Profound Impact of Lisa Decker

It’s hard to fathom the skill set required to navigate days packed with huge and highly sensitive construction projects, volunteer efforts that range from supporting military spouses to negotiating with garrison commanders, teaching stints at university, mentoring appointments with young professionals, the endless tasks of raising a family and a cherished new role as soccer mom. Yet Lisa Decker juggled all of those things with grace, dedication, deep competence and an unforgettable smile. In doing so, she generated profound, positive impact well beyond her immediate circle and her short life.

A long-time member of the FMA Board of Directors, Chairperson of the Military and Family Committee, project manager for the transformation of Kuhn Hall into the Education and Resiliency Center, and Vice President of The Whiting-Turner Construction Company, Decker passed away in November, following a battle with breast cancer.

“Lisa was a powerhouse,” said Jennifer Crockett, a member of the FMA Board of Directors. “In her day job, she was the vice president of a major company in a male-dominated industry. But when she introduced herself at FMA meetings, she would just say that she built things. That speaks so much to who she was. She wasn’t interested in talking about herself. She was interested in talking about things she could do for the Fort Meade community.”

A civil engineer with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech, Decker spent the last 25 years at Whiting-Turner managing multi-million-dollar projects for healthcare, higher education and government clients, and growing the company’s list of contracts for confidential defense and intelligence facilities. On the side, she taught courses in both the engineering and business schools at Johns Hopkins University. Yet Decker remained down to earth.

“One thing I remember most about Lisa was her work boots,” said Chad Jones, Public Affairs Officer at Fort Meade. “Lisa was so classy and smart. She exemplified professionalism and, in many ways, she was very corporate. I absolutely concluded that Lisa was smarter than everybody else in the room and there was never a room where Lisa wasn’t comfortable.”

Yet when Jones razzed Decker that she didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a gruff engineer, “she would say, ‘No Chad, I have work boots and they are always in my car,’” Jones said.

When the FMA Foundation began pursuing the idea of creating a resiliency and education center on post, Decker was both the logical choice and an eager volunteer to serve as project manager. The plan would ultimately require creating a completely new, one-time model for facilities development on post and convincing Army officials to forego the established process of having the Army Corps of Engineers oversee construction.

“Garrison commanders are very protective of their buildings,” Jones said. “Lisa did this work with four different commanders and I haven’t met a commander who was not extremely impressed with her.”

Decker used her engineering skills to itemize requirements for the proposed center and develop a draft design. When the project team realized the initial concept would include 800 requirements, 80,000 square feet of program space and a $30 million construction budget, Decker methodically worked with the team to prioritize, revise and innovate. She also successfully addressed a string of development challenges as they arose, including developing a workable, affordable response when the Army released new force protection standards that threatened to dramatically increase the project’s cost.

“With Lisa, it didn’t matter how difficult or prickly the discussions got, or how frustrated individuals became with delays, she had a way of tucking all of that away, guiding people back to a productive discussion and she did it all with professionalism, class, respect and a smile,” said Deon Viergutz, FMA Foundation President.

For Decker, however, the FMA wasn’t simply an extension of her construction career. It was a valued opportunity to serve.

“She had a real passion for community service and she was the absolute best advocate for the mission of the Fort Meade Alliance and all the service we do,” said FMA President Doreen Harwood. “She wanted to generate direct, positive impact and she was passionate about her work on programs that directly touched the military and civilians who live in and around Fort Meade.”

Decker chaired the Military and Family Committee for years and joyfully devoted countless hours to providing events and support services to military spouses and children.

“The Fort Meade community – the service members and the family members – might not all know Lisa’s name but they absolutely are going to feel her impact for years to come,” Jones said.

She also volunteered annually to serve as a speaker and mentor for the Rising Stars’ mentorship program.

At the mentorship kickoff event in early March 2020, Decker delivered supportive and hard-charging remarks, said Kyle McQuighan, Rising Stars Co-Chair. She encouraged attendees “to keep knocking on doors, keep putting yourself out there, don’t let naysayers stop you. Do your best all the time and eventually your pride, passion, experience, knowledge and hard work will get recognized. I couldn’t think of a better person to come out and teach the next generation how to move forward and how to be resilient in tough times.”

An accomplished woman in a male-dominated profession, Decker “was incredibly passionate about mentoring the next generation of STEM professionals, especially women in STEM fields,” Crockett said.

As full as her schedule was, she even went out of her way to create experiences to inspire young people. Crockett points to the example her son who, as a 10th grade student, was toying with the idea of becoming an engineer. When Decker heard this, she arranged for him to take an extensive tour of a Whiting-Turner project. The experience sold him on the profession. He is now a college sophomore in civil engineering.

All her work and all her volunteer efforts, however, didn’t detract from the role that Decker adored most, being the mother of her son Kellan. Friends joked that she channeled as much passion into being a soccer mom and Cub Scout leader as she did into a multi-million dollar-construction project. And when the pandemic and cancer limited her outings, she cheerfully said that the situation gave her more time to snuggle with Kellan while she continued to work and volunteer remotely.

In a memorial notice, Decker’s husband, Spencer Alvey, and family remembered her as “a pillar of strength. Over the past year, she fought and beat breast cancer with grace and determination. With deep faith in God, she found hope in the face of setbacks. Even in her darkest moments, she was able to paint color in the lives of those around her. Her life spoke to perseverance in a way that few could match. Lisa was a woman who made an impact.”

“Lisa was a gift to all of us and she will forever have an impact on me,” Viergutz said. “We are sometimes reminded that we are all blessed and challenged to think about what we are doing with those blessings each and every day. Lisa lived that, every single day. She loved every day no matter how hard it was. When I think about the way she approached life, I want to make sure I am following that model and reaching that caliber every day.”