Joining a military branch steeped in a tradition of "iron men in wooden ships," Kathleen Bruyere went on to become a trailblazer for women in the Navy, rising to the rank of captain, shaping policies on sexual discrimination and working to expand opportunities for women to serve "not for self but for country," in the words of the Navy's unofficial motto.
She was 76 when she died Sept. 3 at a hospital in San Diego. The cause was complications from cancer, said her sister, Lucia O'Dwyer.
Bruyere enlisted in 1966, on the eve of sweeping changes in the service. Over the next decade, as the draft came to an end and the women's movement took hold, the Navy's top nurse, Alene Duerk, became its first female admiral; Barbara Allen Rainey became its first female aviator; and the U.S. Naval Academy accepted its first group of women.
In another first, Bruyere became the first woman to serve as flag secretary to an admiral, running the staff in San Diego for Rear Adm. Allen Hill beginning in 1975. Time magazine took note, dispensing with its usual Man of the Year award to name Bruyere one of 12 Women of the Year in January 1976.
She appeared on the cover alongside women including tennis champion Billie Jean King, First Lady Betty Ford and U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan, D-Texas.
"There will be a seagoing woman admiral in the U.S. Navy in the not too distant future," said Bruyere, who was then a 31-year-old lieutenant commander known as Kathleen Byerly.
"None of her fellow (or sister) officers would be surprised if Byerly herself reaches that rank," the magazine reported.
Bruyere, who specialized in recruiting and personnel, never became a flag officer during her 28 years in the Navy. But she made it easier for other women to advance through the ranks after joining a class-action lawsuit that overturned a ban on women at sea, and later helped conduct a Navy study that opened up 9,000 sea-duty jobs on 24 ships, according to the Orlando Sentinel.