Fay Gillis Wells
Fay Gillis Wells
October 15, 1908 - December 2, 2002
It is with deep sadness that we tell you that charter member Fay Gillis Wells died on December 2, 2002. According to her son Linton, she passed away due to complications from pneumonia after a short hospital stay. Her family had been with her through her final illness and she died peacefully, leaving us all with wonderful memories and inspiration. Linton also said that Fay went quickly and peacefully. It’s perhaps worth noting that the Friday before she went into the hospital she received an award for lifetime contributions to broadcasting and made remarks that generated a standing ovation. That, plus her landing a plane on her 92nd birthday, says a lot about how sharp and energetic she was up to the end.
Fay was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, attended Michigan State University and had her first flying lesson on August 1, 1929 at Curtiss Field. From this humble beginning, it can truly be said that no one has given more continuous dedicated service to the causes of aviation and aerospace than Fay Gillis Wells.
Fay is well known as a Charter Member of The Ninety-Nines and was one of the signers of the letter inviting licensed women pilots to join together to provide mutual support. "It need not be a tremendously official sort of organization," the letter said, "just a way to get acquainted, to discuss the prospects for women pilots from both a sports and a bread winning point of view, and to tip each other off on what's going on in the industry" Thus this organization was born and dedicated to fostering camaraderie and promoting opportunities for women in aviation.
A famous photo depicts 22 of the ladies who gathered at Curtiss Field, Valley Stream. Long Island on November 2, 1929, for the first meeting. Most are wearing dresses and hats; quite a few are sporting fashionable fur collars on their coats. The one lass clad in oil-spattered coveralls, flying helmet, and goggles is Fay.
This meeting was a harbinger of Fay's 72 years of continuous dedicated service to aviation and aerospace.
Fay designed and modeled pilot attire for women and served as fashion editor of Airwoman, The 99s magazine, beginning in 1934. In 1941, she helped to make the Amelia Earhart Scholarship Fund a reality. She also authored a book describing the 15-year history of The Ninety-Nines. Fay worked diligently for approval of the 1963 Amelia Earhart 8¢ air mail stamp. In 1975, Fay planned The 99s' celebration of the 40th anniversary of Amelia's solo flight from Honolulu to San Francisco for "International Women's Year." She has served on the Board of Directors for the International Women's Air and Space Museum since its inception in 1978.
As The 99s' Bicentennial Chairman in 1973, Fay dreamed up the Forest of Friendship. She wanted to create a living memorial that would last long after the bicentennial year. Her creation came to fruition as a joint project with the Kansas Forestry Service and the City of Atchison, Kansas, and was officially dedicated on July 24, 1978, Amelia Earhart's birthday. The trees come from all 50 states and the over 30 countries where 99s live, More than one thousand granite plaques, each honoring an individual who has contributed to aviation, grace Memory Lane, the trail that winds through the Forest. Memory Lane was the first National Recreation Trail designated by the Department of the Interior in Kansas. During the 15th Anniversary celebration 1994, the Forest of Friendship Committee dedicated the Fay Gills Wells Gazebo to say "thank you" for her many years of devotion to this project and to aviation. The gazebo was financed by contributions from her many friends and admirers from around the world.
Besides her life and service in aviation, Fay also enjoyed a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent, Hollywood correspondent, White House correspondent, yachting writer, buyer of strategic war materiel for the US (1942-48), wife, mother and grandmother. Throughout the years, she continued to dream up projects that typically enjoyed initial reactions such as "you can't do that" meaning "it can't be done." Consistently, Fay proved the nay-sayers wrong.
This "can do" attitude was honed by experiences and a long history of achievements. Fay was one of the first women hired to demonstrate and sell aircraft for the Curtiss Flying Service. She was the second woman to save her life by bailing out of a crippled airplane with a parachute which made her a member of the Caterpillar Club. She was the first American woman to pilot a Soviet civil aircraft and the first foreigner to own a glider in the Soviet Union. She made arrangements in Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, Russia for fueling depots and maintenance facilities for Wiley Post's solo round-the-world flight in 1933. Fay was granted a patent for a folding table, specially designed for boats, but adaptable for any small space in 1961. She was one of three women correspondents chosen to accompany President Nixon to China and Russia in 1982. These were both firsts for an American President as well as for Fay. In 1988, she was a featured speaker at the first World Aviation Education and Safety Congress in New Delhi, India.
Besides her abiding faith that a thing worth doing CAN BE DONE, the other prominent characteristic that allowed her to accomplish the impossible was her ability to inspire and motivate others to DO THE IMPOSSIBLE. In the words of the late Charter 99, Nancy Hopkins Tier, "Things get done when Fay says 'This is a good idea... ' Whenever she gets a bright idea, I know it's going to be carried out."
With her unbridled energy, Fay continued to be involved in projects to help others in aviation and other spheres. Since 1984 she served on the Smithsonian-Dunes Airport Task Force and since 1985 on the National Air and Space Museum Trophy Award Committee. She was a member of the committee to select the first journalist in space in 1985. In 1989 Fay decided to research the winners of the Harmon Trophy. She quickly determined that the information was scattered and in general disarray. She also discovered that the location of the trophy itself had not been known for several years. Thus, she launched a search for the trophy and tackled the task of compiling a complete history of the award. As a result, the trophy was found and presented to Gaby Kennard at the 1990 Forest of Friendship celebration.
She served on the advisory committee for the Schlesinger Library, which donated the Microfilm Edition of the Amelia Earhart Papers to the Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum. She was the featured guest speaker at the dedication reception in September 1990. Fay served as adviser to the four Oklahomans who commemorated the 60-year anniversary oaf Wiley Post's round-the-world trip, in July 1991.
In 1994, Fay was the chief architect of 20th-year commemoration of the kick-off for International Women's Year, a 99s-Zonta-UNIFEM project, on Amelia Earhart Day, January 11, 1995. The celebration consisted of a gala banquet honoring eight Women in Aviation and Aerospace. Fay continued to promote aviation and honor others who have made significant contributions. For more than seventy years, Fay Gillis Wells lived The 99s' first motto: "World Friendship through Flying."
Here is a partial list of affiliations that indicates Fay's interests and influence:
Quite appropriately, Fay received many distinguished honors. Among them are:
We mourn the passing of this truly great lady.