Commentary | July 8, 2021

Remembering Cmdr. William Pickrum 

By Nicole Bertrand, MyCG Staff

The Coast Guard recently lost one of its own—a man who lived an exemplary life. Cmdr. William Pickrum was the third African American to attend the Coast Guard Academy and the second to graduate. He passed away April 15, 2021, at the age of 73.  

After graduating with honors in 1970, Pickrum did several tours as a helicopter pilot and served in the Coast Guard for 22 years, earning many commendations for his life-saving accomplishments.  

Pickrum became Chief of the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue Branch, a position so critical that it is reserved for the most capable of officers. He also served as a program analyst, operations officer, pilot/supply officer, National Search and Rescue instructor, and pilot/administration officer.   

Upon retiring from the Coast Guard, he went on to become a commercial airline pilot, the Kent County Commissioner in Delaware, Deputy Director at the State of Maryland Office of Management and Budget, and a member of the faculty at Delaware State University (DSU), where he served as a program manager and adjunct professor in aviation and political science.  

Reflecting on  Pickrum’s character and humility in spite of his accomplishments, Dr. Steve Newton, a former DSU colleague, recounted a time when he spoke to Pickrum about becoming the Chief of the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue Branch. 

“Once I asked him about that, noting that with a high number of military students it might be a bridge to them, and William simply said, ‘I want them to engage my ideas, not my resume.’”  

Born to Emma and Willis Pickrum, Pickrum was a native of Maryland, where he attended Henry Highland Garnet High School in Chestertown.   

Pickrum leaves behind his loving wife of 28 years, Dr.Vita Pickrum, their two children, three grandchildren, and many other family members and friends. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetary. 

“Cmdr. William Pickrum was a patriot, a parent, an involved citizen leader in his community, and a beloved professor at Delaware State University,” said DSU President Tony Allen. “We mourn his passing deeply, and are proud beyond measure not only to name one of our planes in his honor, but also know that it will forever fly the insignia of the U.S. Coast Guard, the service to which he devoted his life.”