October 23, 2003
NASA Accountant Mark Denton Stands Tall
When 5-year-old Mark Denton decided to run errands with his mom one morning in 1970, he didn't expect such a mundane outing would forever change his life. But that morning, in the fog, the Dentons' car collided with a truck, leaving Mark with a severed spinal cord and no sensation below mid-chest. His mother perished in the crash.
Denton, 37, is an accountant at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala. His reduced mobility doesn't stand in his way.
From the bed where he works in his suburban Huntsville home, Denton is helping to implement NASA's Core Financial Project. The project is an agency-wide effort to provide timely, consistent and reliable financial information to managers making program budget decisions. He is responsible for monitoring program receipts and fund transfers.
"This project will be a good thing, enabling NASA to operate more like a business," Denton said. "There's a lot of change still ahead, so I hope to do my part in making it a change for the better."
In 1988 Denton graduated from the University of Alabama, Huntsville with a degree in business administration. He joined the MSFC Commercial Accounting Office in 1989. He works in the Fiscal Control Division of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. The office is responsible for the receipt, distribution, control and obligation of MSFC's resources.
"I love working with money," Denton said, "but, more importantly, I love working with people."
Denton worked at MSFC five days a week until 1997. After multiple surgeries, doctors told him he needed to stay in bed or face more procedures. For Denton, it was a blow to his independence. He enjoyed his work at MSFC, and had been making plans to move out of his family's home, buy some land and build his own house. But that was not to be.
The people at MSFC never wavered in their support of Denton. "My supervisors and co-workers were aware that I was anxious to return to work," Denton said. "Through the generosity and understanding of management, I've been allowed to come into the office when I'm able, and to work from home when I'm not. There have never been any roadblocks. Everyone was and still is making it as close to being there as possible. The opportunity to work from home is a blessing that has kept me from having to leave my job," Denton said.
It was his dedication that led Denton's co-workers to honor him in 2002 with the Marshall Values Peer Award. The annual award is presented to employees who exhibit MSFC core values: people, customers, excellence, teamwork and innovation. Denton learned of his award by phone, listening to his co-workers cheer during the awards ceremony last July.
"I'll never forget that day," Denton said. "When you work from home, it's hard to keep from feeling insignificant at times. But there was a lot of emotion passing through that phone line," he added.
David Bates, the chief financial officer for the Office of Space Flight, NASA Headquarters in Washington and a former MSFC supervisor of Denton, also called it a moment to remember. "Mark is an incredible person. He truly lives the MSFC values on a day-to-day basis. It was an amazing and emotional moment when everyone at the celebration gave him a standing ovation while he was at home listening on the phone," Bates said.
Denton attributes his positive attitude and outlook to all the people in his life. "I'm still overwhelmed by the support of family, friends and co-workers who go above and beyond to make me feel like I'm out there with them, and not here at home on my "island." My work lets me escape beyond these four walls. I've always felt my challenges are not something to ponder and regret, but to overcome. And my friends from the community and from work are priceless," Denton said.
Technologists are developing a battery-powered, pneumatic cushion for people confined to wheelchairs, and Denton hopes the device will allow him to spend longer periods away from his bed. He has faith in technology, and is confident it will happen. Until then, he continues to make every active minute count.
"If there's one thing I've learned, it's how precious time can be," Denton said. "I enjoy coming out to MSFC whenever I can, and touching base with everybody. It's part of what keeps me going," Denton added.
Media organizations interested in interviewing Denton should contact Dom Amatore, MSFC Media Relations Department at: 256/544-0034.
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