She once was a little girl dressed up as Lady Liberty marching down Main Street in the annual Edmonds Fourth of July parade.
Now, at 40, Emily Klauser Bassett continues that patriotic theme as the first captain and commanding officer of the USS Manchester, stationed in Mobile, Alabama.
It’s a unique assignment. Recently delivered to the Navy for testing and certification, the Manchester is a new littoral combat ship, meaning it has a shallow draft so it can operate near the shoreline. It’s known for a sleek, needle-like trimaran hull, and speed, able to haul at 40 knots.
To captain a crew is still rare for women in the Navy, representing about 15 percent of those commanding ships and 19 percent of the entire naval force. It’s a topic she’s thought about deeply.
“It’s been an arc,” she reflects. “My first eight or nine years I was just busy getting the job done. There was so much to do that I didn’t really think about the issue.”
In addition, women in leadership roles were familiar to her. Her first commanding officer was a woman, and Bassett — who attended Lynnwood Elementary and College Place Middle School — grew up in a home with an accomplished, working mother, Henriette Klauser, Ph.D., of Edmonds.
Plus, Bassett has a natural drive to succeed, no matter the obstacles. It may be somewhat of an understatement when she says, “I’m super deliberate.”
Her education illustrates not only perseverance but also a lively intellect. She’s got a bachelor’s degree in classical civilizations and two master’s degrees: One in Hispanic Studies, earned in Spain no less, and another in engineering management.
Having an understanding of ancient cultures absolutely informs her command philosophy. “I learned basic lessons of human nature from the Greeks, and I learned how to learn, how to be curious.”
It all seemed to come together when she became involved in the Lean-In movement, based on the book by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, which encourages women to embrace leadership.
“I thought, oh my gosh, I should think more about this,” Bassett said. “It gave me a toolkit to explore power and gender.”
As a mother of two, there’s also the work/life balance to juggle.
“I always say, ‘Everyone needs a Will,’” she laughs, explaining her husband’s name is Will. “He’s amazing. And my kids are with the program.”
She checks in constantly. “Is it still working? I have a great support structure. My kids are healthy and happy. They’re proud of me,” she said.
Somehow, Bassett carves out downtime. “I plan for it. I read books, write in a journal, do yoga every day and workout daily. I’m very conscious of my energy level. It’s not about efficiency. I don’t care about that. But energy — if I have to do something I know is draining, I do it when my energy is high.”
And, as a Catholic (she grew up attending Edmonds’ Holy Rosary Church), she follows Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s lessons in contemplative meditation.
Above all else, Bassett remains devoted to her crew and country. “I know I’m serving something greater than myself.”
Time with her crew is drawing to a close: This May, the Manchester will be officially commissioned in New Hampshire, at which time there will be a change of command and Bassett moves on to her next assignment as a nuclear reactor officer aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier.
“But no matter where I travel, Edmonds is home,” she said. “I think back to my days there, those 4th of July parades, and I see what we all have in common.”
— By Connie McDougall
— Photos courtesy Emily Klauser Bassett