By Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – The novelist James Lane Allen is credited with saying, “Adversity does not build character; it reveals it.”
Proving this adage is Tina Gatewood, customer service representative in charge of payroll for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District.
A USACE employee since 2016, Gatewood was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in May 2021.
Since her diagnosis, Gatewood has continued to work here in the District, ensuring all of its employees are paid on time.
“I was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in May 2021,” Gatewood said. “This was detrimental to my children and me, as I have been a single mother for 26 years, and the idea of not being here for my children is not fathomable. My faith and love of God have carried me through as I know that His plan is the only plan. I truly pray that I can be here to see all three of my children get married and meet my grandchildren.”
After having several surgeries, Gatewood is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment bi-weekly. Gatewood said she decided to keep working because she couldn’t see herself doing anything else while also taking her mind off her troubles.
“I have a true love for the Army Corps of Engineers and everything that this District represents,” Gatewood said. “I can’t imagine not working. My co-workers and friends at the Corps have been so warm and loving throughout the entire process. It is the relationships with them that I truly cherish every day. While it has been tough to balance work/life/illness, I know that I have the full support of my superiors. I do believe that having the responsibilities of my position keeps me focused and takes my mind off of what will or might happen. I take every day as a challenge and look forward to what work brings.”
One person who has seen Gatewood’s fight and determination firsthand is Lita Trotter, supervisory accountant for the District. Trotter said that when she first heard about Gatewood’s illness, she assumed her work status would be bleak, but she has been pleasantly surprised.
“Tina has more heart and fight than anyone I have ever known,” Trotter said. “I did not know what to expect when she told me her diagnosis. I assumed that she wouldn’t be able to work much, but she proved me wrong. Through it all, she has always put her responsibility as the CSR as her top priority. She has ensured that the District’s payroll has always been processed, even though I know many times she did not feel well. She is the epitome of dependability and selfless service.”
Gatewood graduated from the Mobile District Leadership Development Program in 2018, and one of the friends she met in that class was Debra Hadley.
Hadley, Mobile District’s chief of the internal review, said that her dedication to serving others is inspiring and even spoke of her helping one of Hadley’s teammates with a problem while undergoing chemotherapy treatment at the same time.
“I’ve known some of the challenges she has had to overcome and have been amazed at her strength to persevere, overcome and move forward,” Hadley said. “Most people would never know she was even facing adversity because she always takes care of everyone and asks others what she can do to help them.”
Gatewood said the support she has gotten from her superiors and co-workers has been outstanding and that they have stepped in and helped when the situation has become overwhelming.
“There has been such a large outpouring of love from all areas that I work with every pay period,” Gatewood said. “I could not have asked for a better support system since my diagnosis. My superiors and co-workers have stood beside me and made sure that I have been taken care of when I couldn’t take care of myself. I try my best to be present in all areas of my position. I don’t want any employee worrying about getting paid.”
Gatewood said the love of her three children and their love and support had helped encourage her during her diagnosis and treatments. She also said her faith had comforted her and inspired her to keep fighting.
Her advice to anyone facing a battle is never to give up.
“Never, never, never give up,” Gatewood said. “There is a special place for all of us in life. There is a reason that we are here. That smile on your face or that next encouraging word can make a difference in someone’s life. It is truly the little things in life that push us through, and I would encourage anyone in my position to hold onto faith and know that God will see you through.”
Hadley summed up the feelings of many people in the District when she talked about what Gatewood has meant to them since her diagnosis.
“She is an inspiration,” Hadley said. “We are extremely fortunate to have someone with such heart and dedication taking care of people in our district and serving in such a critical position. She looks out for the people in our district, her family, and her friends. She will give everything she has to ensure everyone else has what they need. She is truly an inspiration.”