Annie Sullivan, who worked for Smithsonian’s Building Maintenance Department at the National Air and Space Museum from 1986 to 2006, was well-known for her dedication to her job and her optimistic spirit. Before she began at the Smithsonian, Sullivan lived in Greenville, South Carolina, where she worked as a cotton picker, coleslaw maker at Winn Dixie, chicken processor, cleaning staff for a hotel, nanny, iron factory worker, car washer, and cook. These jobs were demanding, often involving many hours on her feet.
Soon after she arrived in Washington, D.C., Sullivan started working at the National Air and Space Museum, cleaning staff offices and bathrooms. She remembered feeling grateful for the work and the museum space, especially the kitchen space where she could prepare meals. Sullivan recalled, “Girl, I thought I was living in luxury, because we never had nothing like that in South Carolina.”
Though it was difficult work, Mrs. Sullivan made a positive impact. So much so that the museum’s most senior employees asked for her cleaning assistance, specifically. When working on the senior-level office floor, her bologna sandwiches were favorites with the children of the museum senior staff. She was also friends with Deputy Director Donald Lopez, and was known among some staff as his “designated hugger.” While working at the museum, she met and spoke with Tom Cruise and saw other celebrities, like Michael Jackson, John Forsythe, and Liza Minelli.
Though her time at the National Air and Space Museum was routine each day, her positive personality made her a memorable and cherished staff member. And many agreed. When Mrs. Sullivan had a stroke in 2006, people from all over the museum came to visit her. She was also awarded the Employee of the Year award in 1997 and won the Air and Space Museum Building Management Division’s Outstanding Personality award in 2003. Though Annie Sullivan has since passed away, her kindness and optimism made her unforgettable.
- Annie Sullivan Oral History Interview, 2013, Record Unit 9635, Smithsonian Insitution Archives