Heather Proctor Honored with TSA Public Service Award

Friday, May 17, 2024
Honorary Award recipient Heather Proctor with DADM Canevari, ADM Pekoske, DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Canegallo. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Milton)

Heather Proctor is the kind of person who will drop everything to help a friend, colleague or stranger. For over a decade, Proctor, the Assistant Federal Security Director at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), has led the way for positive change through volunteer efforts in her community.

Her unwavering commitment to make a difference in the lives of others has not only earned her admiration but also the prestigious TSA Honorary Award for Public Service. Proctor, an avid believer in giving back, was humbled to be recognized for her personal involvement with organizations outside of work. 

“When I received the notification I had received the Honorary Award for Public Service, I was shocked, because I've always been a ‘behind-the-scenes’ kind of person,” said Proctor. “I'm not someone who wants the limelight or wants to be out in front of things. The FSD and I talk about what we do on the weekends, and he’d apparently been taking mental notes and decided to nominate me for the award. So when I found out I was actually selected, I was just incredibly honored but also in a state of shock, because I know how significant of an award it is.”

Heather Proctor at an American Cancer Society Relay for Life event. (Photo courtesy of Heather Proctor)
Heather Proctor at an American Cancer Society Relay for Life event. (Photo courtesy of Heather Proctor)

Despite her behind-the-scenes mindset, her work makes a huge impact on the community all year long, from cancer research fundraising that starts in January to Christmas season gift giving in December.

Her volunteerism stems from a personal place after a melanoma diagnosis in 2009. After undergoing treatment and making a full recovery, Proctor felt compelled to do more.

“Just hearing the words I had cancer and then having to go through a surgery where I ended up with about 22 stitches, it started making me think, ‘What else? What else can I do?’” said Proctor. “So that segued into the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. I knew there was an event in our local town, and fortunately I knew somebody from my church who had been doing it for many years. She took me under her wing and started showing me the ropes.”

Now, Proctor is a senior member of her local Relay for Life chapter, serving in various leadership roles from team captain to co-event chair to online fundraising and social media event team lead. 

Through her involvement with Relay for Life, Proctor began meeting more people who worked with other charitable organizations throughout her community. She became more involved in other events, always asking herself, “What else can I do?”

Proctor’s impact reaches across organizations with her connections to the local Austin chapters of the American Legion, the Thin Blue Line, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, where she and other volunteers partner to mark over 700 veteran graves with American flags and wreaths provided by Wreaths Across America. She finds creative ways to involve her personal interests and friends to help the community.

Heather Proctor places a U.S. flag on a veteran’s grave. (Photo courtesy of Heather Proctor)
Heather Proctor places a U.S. flag on a veteran’s grave. (Photo courtesy of Heather Proctor)

Proctor is a leader and member of a local Jeep club.

“My husband and I have always liked Jeep Wranglers. He had a couple through the years, and we always had so much fun taking trail rides in them,” Proctor explained. “I never bought one for myself when I was younger, because I'm a mom to two boys and it was not the appropriate ‘mom taxi’ for me at the time. But when both of my boys graduated high school and went off to college, I decided to get a Jeep.

“And once you become a Jeep Wrangler driver, you learn about what is known as the ‘Jeep culture’ where Jeep drivers get together for social gatherings. A close friend of mine and I decided to start a local Jeep group – Lower Colorado River Jeepers (LCRJ). But we didn’t want it to just be a Jeep group for the sake of getting together and saying, ‘Oh, nice Jeep.’ So we started organizing events for the group that would benefit the community. We try to think of different charities that are not always mainstream and help out where we can.”

Proctor helped lead a LCRJ team to acquire and donate several hundred pounds of dog food and animal supplies to a local community animal shelter. Last year, she also helped organize a school supply drive called Jam-the-Jeeps sponsored by a local Jeep dealership and in partnership with LCRJ.

“We held a social meetup and asked people to bring school supplies for children in the local community,” said Proctor. “We came away with a pretty significant amount of school supplies that were packed into backpacks and bags and delivered to the local school district. It's just a little thing, but we try to help where we can.”

It was no surprise to Proctor’s colleagues that she was this year’s TSA Public Service Award recipient.

“I am so proud of Heather,” said AUS FSD Gil Almaraz. “Last week I asked about her weekend, and for 15 minutes she told me the most amazing stories of volunteerism and community service! She is tireless and so deserving of this award.”

Proctor also brings her giving spirit to her AUS team. Last December she connected her TSA team with the Austin Police Department to participate in their Blue Santa program, providing Christmas gifts to children in the local community who would otherwise go without during the holidays.                     

For Proctor, public service is not just a role but a way of life. Her selflessness and enthusiasm for helping others easily rubs off on anyone with the opportunity to talk with her.

“It all (volunteering) began from having received a cancer diagnosis, although my experience with melanoma was not as serious as others who have found out they had cancer,” said Proctor. “It did open up a lot of great opportunities for me to find ways to help where I can. It's the domino effect of having that happen to yourself and then wondering, ‘What can I do to help others going through hardships?’”

By Kimberlyn Pepe, TSA’s Strategic Communications & Public Affairs