Farewell to Jerrie Mock, First Woman to Fly Solo Around the Globe

Posted on October 6, 2014

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She was the record-setting aviatrix you probably haven’t heard of.

 

Last weekend, the New York Times ran a full-length obituary article for one Mrs. Jerrie Mock, who passed away last week at the age of 88.

I’d like to say that the remarkable Jerri Mock was famous for being the first female pilot to fly solo around the world, but despite that achievement in 1964, she was not famous. Nor, apparently, did she particularly want to be, although she did write a book about the experience.

What I found the most remarkable about Mrs. Mock was that she was not a professional aviatrix with a lot of flight time (she had only 750 hours accumulated before setting off on her globetrotting adventure). She was a 1960s-era, 38-year-old homemaker and mother of three. Indeed, the German press refers to her as “The Flying Housewife.”

I suspect that in past eras, many women have chafed at the demure, submissive, domestic roles prescribed for them by proper societal expectations… and Jerrie Mock may have been one of them. As she herself once said,

“I did not conform to what girls did. What girls did was boring.”

Well, amen to that!! I’m liking Ms. Mock more and more. Indeed, Lila’s early life had certain other parallels to Mrs. Mock’s: not only did Lila think “What girls did was boring,” but we also had in common that we preferred pants to skirts, that we discovered an interest in aviation quite by chance in our childhoods, that we flew Cessnas, and that we eventually gave up flying due to the expense (alas, all too often this is the fate of the aviation hobbyist). But Mrs. Mock far outshone anything Lila ever did with aviation!

And how did her ’round-the-world feat come about? According to the New York Times article,

Ms. Mock said her around-the-world trip had come about because of an offhand remark by her husband after she said she was bored. She wanted to do something, go somewhere, she said. “Maybe you should get in your plane and just fly around the world,” her husband said. “All right,” she said she replied, “I will.”

Just like that.

Well, not just like that. There had to be preparations, plans, sponsors, modifications to her Cessna 180. This may have started on a whim, but she sure didn’t fly off on an impulse. Once everything was in place, Mrs. Mock did what many others before her could not – including her childhood idol, Amelia Earhart. I am most impressed by the Pacific leg of her flight; consider this:

She navigated 1,300 miles over the Pacific from Guam to tiny Wake Island, three miles in diameter, without the benefit of ground signals.

WOW. Just, wow. That takes brains, discipline, courage, endurance, and an attention span unheard of among our youth.

You would think that Jerrie Mock would be as famous a name as Valentina Tereshkova or Sally Ride, or even – maybe – Amelia Earhart. But no, she wrote her book, made the rounds of interviews and talk shows, and then faded back to her private family life. Although her Cessna 180 now hangs in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, I have never seen her name in a history book, never heard her mentioned at a Women’s History speech.

Maybe, as her family says, she wasn’t interested in fame. Fair enough. But what does it say about us, the public, that we would allow her to become barely a footnote in history? That today, all you need to be famous is a sex tape or a crass “reality show,” that scandal fodder and mere entertainers are the names in every headline, on every tongue, getting all the attention, and… horrors… are somehow seen as actual role models, … while a true achiever like this fades into historical obscurity?

The world lost a woman of real character, courage, and achievement last week. We don’t just need more women like Jerrie Mock, we need more people like her.

 

Smithsonian, National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian, National Air and Space Museum

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