Last week I attended the funeral of a wonderful woman and pilot, Mrs. Evelyn Johnson, of Morristown,TN.
Many of you will know that Evelyn — or “Mama Bird,” as she was known — had more flying hours than any other living pilot, and more flying hours than any other woman who ever lived. She was a member of the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame, the Women in Aviation Hall of Fame, and the National Aviation Hall of Fame. She had all the ratings, but flew most of her hours at the job she loved — instructing and giving check rides. That’s but a partial listing of her numerous and well-earned honors. Just Google her name to find more.
Evelyn’s funeral had one great advantage over funerals of most aviators. The minister who conducted the service, Rev. Don Beach, is the son of a CFI and is himself a practicing CFII. He was also Evelyn’s good friend of long standing. The guy understood Evelyn and aviation, and that made a tremendous difference. Evelyn would have been proud.
I first met Evelyn in the mid-1980s and still remember it well. I was speaking for the Tennessee Airports Conference in Nashville, TN. Evelyn was secretary of the association. At dinner, the president looked down the head table and said, “Evelyn, put on your glasses and come read the minutes.” Evelyn put on her glasses, walked to the microphone, looked at the president and said, “I don’t need glasses to read the minutes, sonny.” Then she removed the glasses and read the minutes. I figure she was in the neighborhood of 65, at the time. She lived and worked until she was 102, and flew all but the very last few years. She was also Morristown’s airport manager, a Civil Air Patrol Colonel, and a world-class booster of aviation.
Evelyn logged 57,635.4 hours of flight. The only person who ever logged more hours was Ed Long, who flew almost 65,000 hours. Ed and I both worked at Montgomery(Alabama) Aviation, so I was blessed to know the two highest-time pilots in world history.
Evelyn sent Ed a copy of her book, “Mama Bird.” Bob Hudgens, president of Montgomery Aviation, urged Ed to call Evelyn. Ed called, but had to leave a message because Evelyn was “up flying.” She called back, but Ed was “up flying.” I think those two played telephone tag for several months, but neither ever reached the other.
As Rev. Don Beach said, “Mama Bird is flying home.”
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