When I had lunch with her at Soroptomist Club, I had no idea she had been responsible for the overall management of the Road Department in Alameda County. This included an annual budget of $12 million, 200 employees, five movable bridges and 54 miles of country roads. She served a population of over one million and an area of 8,221 square miles. Her gracious and kind demeanor give no hint of her incredible ability. Her modesty is noteworthy. I was fascinated with our discussion and decided to visit Cambra in her home in Summerset.
She showed me a box and scrapbook filled with newspaper articles and reports about her work. She also showed me a file cabinet in the garage filled with her awards. Her college diploma was her first achievement. Cambra got into engineering "because it was a challenge." She remembers her fellow students weren't at all friendly. She said she took a lot of teasing from both students and professors, including one dean who told her, "You ought to be at home cooking." Soon the "boys," as she calls them, were grateful for her presence. The professors didn't bawl them out using strong language.
After graduation she went to work at Bechtel in San Francisco. She did not receive the same salary as a man. The men got a car. She was given a bicycle. She began searching for a job where as a woman she could really contribute. She shared how she found her way to civil service because you had to take an examination before being hired. "I passed the tests so high I couldn't be bypassed." Blazing a trail for future female engineers, Cambra's career with Alameda County lasted 36 years.
Through her work habits and attitude, Cambra was able to prove that a woman can be as outstanding a civil engineer as a man. When she retired, the director of public works wrote: "All of us here in the Public Works Agency will miss your cheerful smile and encouragement, and everyone wishes you continued success in your new venture as a consulting engineer. Good luck and Godspeed."
Cambra's awards are too numerous to list in this space. Here are some highlights:
• First woman to be licensed by examination in the State of California in 1945.
• First woman member of the American Public Works Association and its first director.
• The only female member and first woman president of the County Engineers Association of California and the East Bay Engineers' Club.
• Recipient in 1977 of the Samuel A. Greeley Award of the American Public Works
Cambra also blazed a trail for women to work and still have a family. She married Manuel Cambra in 1943, and a year later applied for a job for the Alameda County Public Works Agency as an assistant civil engineer. She was married for 53 years, raised two sons and has five grandchildren. She was active in her church and was chairman of the Building Committee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland. Msg. John P. Connolly of St. Jarlath's church describes her as being a very religious person of the highest moral character. She was vice- president on the board of directors of the Hayward Boy's Club, and held offices in the Hayward Soroptimist Club.
When she received the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award in 1979, the organization stated: "The path of any pioneer is rough and those who follow are dependent on the manner in which that pioneer has cleared and traveled that path." The award is given to a female engineer who has made a significant contribution to engineering and has been involved in research, education or administration.
Cambra continues to bless the life of those around her. It is my privilege to know her. Applause, Jessie, from your friends in Soroptimists.