Dr. Sheila Grace Newsom grew up as Gary Don Newsom in Big Spring, Texas, a town that experienced a population explosion when Webb Air Force Base was established there. Her father ran a grocery store and her mother had been a professional singer. She enjoyed sports, playing baseball and football as a young boy, and along the way she had some great mentors. After high school, she entered Texas A&M, like her father had done, and played on the Aggie Baseball team. During her freshman year, she received an application for West Point and decided to pursue that option after discussing it with her high school baseball coach, who believed she could do it. Arriving at West Point, she immediately felt at home and lettered as a Plebe catcher. She performed well academically and physically, earning a spot on the Dean’s list and becoming the Brigade Deputy Commander during her Firstie Year. She selected Infantry as a branch, and after Ranger School reported to the 1st Battalion of the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Vicenza, Italy. She loved her time in the 509th, and earned several foreign jump wings. Tragically, she also witnessed two paratroopers fall to their deaths after becoming tangled as hung jumpers. Leaving the Army in 1978, she felt the need for another difficult mission and pursued a medical career, becoming a Nephrologist. She compared her experience as a doctor to being a platoon leader as she cared for about 100 patients at a time, feeling that she was doing what she was supposed to do. Simultaneously, she was struggling as an alcoholic, and eventually had to check into a rehab center in Atlanta for doctors. After sobering up, she opened a dialysis center in Midland, Texas. Eventually, she and her wife started volunteering in Uganda, and even began work to build a wing on the local hospital. After one of her business partners ran for the Ugandan Parliament using embezzled funds, she and her wife took a trip to their vacation home in Nevis, and while sitting on the porch one evening, Sheila had an epiphany that she was a woman. After much soul-searching, the 64 year-old Gary began taking hormonal therapy to begin the transition to become Sheila Grace. Since transitioning, she has volunteered in a clinic that helps other trans individuals begin their own journey. She is currently planning on earning a PhD in counseling and continuing her work helping people.
In this interview, she talks about her childhood, the opportunities in her home town, and her decision to attend West Point after a year at Texas A&M. She describes playing baseball at the Military Academy and her experiences with Coach Eric Tipton and Coach Bobby Knight. She discusses her time in the 509th, providing a vivid description of two jumpers falling to their deaths. She contemplates her medical career and her ill-fated venture in Uganda. She explores her feminine-leaning feelings throughout her life, and her attempts to tamp down those emotions with alcohol, work, and exercise. She reveals the freedom and relief she felt when she was finally able to outwardly identify as a woman. Finally, she reflects on West Point, her “spiritual home,” and what it means to her.