More than 3,000 women will converge at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas today. As attendees of the 23rd annual Women in Aviation International Conference, March 8-10, they’ll be immersed in strategies and tactics designed to ramp up their aviation careers. They will learn about managing change in a dynamic world. Mitigating safety threats for travelers. Getting up to date on FAA-mandated training. They’ll even have a chance to bring their daughters to some sessions.
Among all the career-enhancing seminars, workshops and networking opportunities, one should not be overlooked – the chance to visit with Olive Ann Beech’s daughter.
Mary Lynn Beech Oliver will be in the Author’s Corner, Friday March 9 from 10:30 a.m. till noon. She’ll be selling and signing copies of The Barnstormer and The Lady, one of the best books on aviation I’ve read (and I’ve read my share). What makes it great? Acclaimed author Dennis Farney tells it straight. Mary Lynn wanted it that way. There’s a refreshing absence of PR whitewashing or corporate-speak.
A Lasting Legacy
The book tells the story of two unlikely people who came together and made pioneering breakthroughs in a fledgling industry. It’s a fascinating story of love, conflict and adventure that can be read as the biography of general aviation itself. Together the Beeches filled the sky with iconic aircraft. The virtually handcrafted Beech Staggerwing (Model 17) is considered by many to be the most beautiful airplane ever designed. During World War II, 90 percent of the 45,000 U.S. Army Air Force bombardiers trained on the Model 18 Twin Beech, in production longer than any other aircraft until the v-tail Model 35 Bonanza, one of the most popular and easily recognized personal aircraft of all time. The continually updated Beech Bonanza enjoys the longest production run of any airplane in general aviation history. The legendary King Air outsold all competing turboprops combined.
In 1940 while Walter suffered a devastating illness, a group of Beech executives tried to oust Olive Ann. She fought them off and drove Beechcraft’s contribution to the Allies’ WWII victory. When Walter died in 1950, Olive Ann led the company for the next 32 years. Her office was frequented by the who’s who of her day: President Lyndon Johnson, Bob Hope, Author Godfrey, Walt Disney. Olive Ann never became a pilot herself, but she flew the company to multimillion-dollar heights – and built 54,000 aircraft along the way.
Leading the Way
Olive Ann was respected and admired for her vision and business acumen. Still, she was a woman in a man’s world, one of the very first females in American history to lead a major corporation. When faced with a corporate coup, she crushed it. When a big Eastern bank disrespected her, she dumped it. Admirers and detractors alike called this indomitable elegantly dressed woman “The Queen.”
WAI attendees can learn much from the book – and from the daughter who will be there signing it. I’ve known Mary Lynn for many years and believe she represent the best of both parents. Her father’s brilliance and joie de vivre. Her mother’s tenacious efficiency and commitment to making the world better. Mary Lynn continues her parents’ legacy through her profound support of countless organizations – and by working to ensure their story is not forgotten, by seeing it preserved in the pages of The Barnstormer and The Lady and by taking time to visit with women in aviation today.
Learning from the Legends
Along with other local aviation giants like Clyde Cessna and Bill Lear, the Beeches put my hometown of Wichita, Kansas, on the map – and helped us claim the title of Air Capital. Anyone attending the WAI conference in Dallas tomorrow should make it a point to spend a little time with Mary Lynn Beech Oliver. To ask her questions. To enjoy her firsthand link to history. Especially to her mother, truly “The First Lady of Aviation.”
You can learn more about Walter and Olive Ann Beech, the book about them and upcoming book signings at BarnstormerLady.com.
Originally published in the March 8 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.