Patti Morton stands smiling next to Diplomacy Center Mary Kane

Director’s Note: A Conversation with “Pistol Packin’ Patti”

Director’s Note: A Conversation with “Pistol Packin’ Patti” 1024 658
Patti Morton (right) is presented with a Meritorious Step Increase award by Chief of Mission Hank Cohen in Kinshasa, 1968. Morton received this award for the excellent quality of her work as post security officer, which she took on in addition to her regular duties as secretary to the Administrative Counselor.

Patti Morton (1935 – 2019), pictured right, is presented with a Meritorious Step Increase award by Chief of Mission Hank Cohen in Kinshasa, 1968. Morton received this award for the excellent quality of her work as post security officer, which she took on in addition to her regular duties as secretary to the Administrative Counselor.

“When I think of being the first woman security officer, what I think of most is I hope I have done the best job I can, and that it will be easier for those who follow.”

– Patricia Anne (Patti) Morton (1935 – 2019), first female Department of State Special Agent

Being the first female special agent, Patti Morton was very aware of the legacy she would leave for women.

Recently I had the opportunity to meet Patricia Anne (Patti) Morton,  the first female Diplomatic Security special agent at the State Department.  Recruited as a special agent in 1972, Morton had previously served as a Foreign Service Staff Officer at several diplomatic posts and had received a commendation for her security work in Kinshasa. Patti generously has donated several artifacts to the National Museum of American Diplomacy museum that illustrate her remarkable career.

At the time she was recruited, Diplomatic Security did not issue gun holsters that could be worn practically by a woman. She found her own solution for carrying her DS-issued .357 Magnum revolver by using this dark blue clutch, which she has donated to the Diplomacy Center museum. Morton pointed out how tricky it was to quickly draw her pistol from a clutch when the need arose. While serving as a special agent, she earned the title “Pistol Packin’ Patti.”

Patti served at U.S. Embassy Saigon as the first female Regional Security Officer. Her duties included supervising the Marine security guards who guarded the embassy. The Marines gave her a camouflage uniform (including a matching elastic hair band) to wear the first time they took her to the shooting range, wanting her to fit in. Though she admitted not knowing where she learned to shoot a gun, she became known for being an excellent shot.

While in Vietnam, she wrote the post’s evacuation plan, which was significant as it was put to use during the fall of Saigon in April 1975 and the ultimate evacuation and closure of the embassy. To her surprise, she was told to evacuate Saigon a few weeks before the city fell. She had to leave without any of her household effects, which were never returned to her.  

In her work as a Regional Security Officer, Patti often led security training sessions and briefings for embassy staff and family members. Patti used these cars to train people at post on defensive driving techniques. If someone was being hijacked or robbed, she showed them how to hit the right points of the cars using these cars as examples. It helped not only the drivers, but also the riders who could give instructions to the drivers on what to do. She said that she would often train the wives of ambassadors, and when the Ambassador’s found out, they started coming to her sessions too. In 2016, she donated this set of toy cars to the Diplomacy Center museum.

In her work as a special agent, Patti also used objects to “show and tell” about security measures. She donated to the Diplomacy Center museum a section of bullet-proof glass with an embedded bullet that was stopped by the protective glass. It was given to her at a post to use as an example in her future travels to other U.S. posts abroad and in training sessions about security measures.  

Back in Washington, she served on protective details for visiting dignitaries. She shared her experience escorting Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly on a visit to the U.S. For formal events, an agent on security detail needed to dress the part. Male special agents were able to rent tuxedos and then charge the cost of their rentals to the office. Since dresses could not be rented, Patti had to purchase formal dresses with her own money so that she could fulfill her duty. She donated two of these dresses to the Diplomacy Center museum. She developed a strong relationship of trust with Grace Kelly during her visit. Upon her departure, Kelly gave her an autographed photo and a clutch – which she admitted was too small to hold a pistol – as a token of appreciation for the protection given by Pistol Packin’ Patti. This clutch was among the items donated to the Diplomacy Center museum.  

Morton shared a number of the challenges that she faced being the first female agent, including the lack of support she would get from some people of her colleagues, specifically the secretarial staff.  She shared the story of having to type all of her documents, memos, and instructions herself, even those that were hundreds of pages, because the secretaries would not do it for her.  

Being the first female special agent, she was very aware of the legacy she would leave for women.  She told us that she would always adapt and make the best with what was available. She had her champions as well as her detractors – she knew that her work was always being watched and evaluated.

Reflecting upon being the first female Department of State Special Agent, Patti said, “When I think of being the first woman security officer, what I think of most is I hope I have done the best job I can, and that it will be easier for those who follow.”