Fay Gillis Wells
By Doris Abbate
Long Island Chapter
On November 12, 1991, the Long Island Chapter unanimously recognized Fay Gillis Wells at their regular meeting at Republic Airport, Farmingdale NY for Fay's 63 years consistently personifying the first 99 motto "WORLD FRIENDSHIP THROUGH FLYING." Fostered by the efforts of Fay in a letter written to every one of the 117 licensed women pilots in the world on October 9, 1929, the nucleus of a new organization was born.
"We could tip each other off on what's going on." What's more, Fay has kept her vision alive for generations of 99s and for more than six decades.
Fay carried the torch for progress and made a pledge to her sister 99s "to provide a close relationship among women pilots and to unite them in any movement that may be for their benefit or for that of aviation in general." We thank Fay for her inspiration, her extensive outreach to our international environment and her contagious leadership in executing resoundingly successful visions. While stardom and headlines are not the quest of Fay, she is nonetheless a vital influence in the aviation industry and to women's place in the cockpit. Her courage, advice and guidance are immeasurable, her efforts toward The Ninety-Nines untiring. Like her friend Amelia Earhart, Fay never lost sight of the forest for the trees, and like her friend, always did it FOR THE FUN OF IT. The bond of friendship between 99s is strong. Each in our way writes the history of The Ninety-Nines. Fay powerfully delivers the incentive to others to make their own contribution to aviation, no matter how big or how small.
She has the distinction of being the only one of the four organizers who has continued a lifetime involvement in service to her beloved 99s. Still on the go, Fay proves a wholesome influence on the education of the public through practices and lecturing on her personal experiences. Fay proves age is no deterrent for positive viability. Indeed judging from the constant demand to fill speaking engagements, Fay's composite of service is richly recognized by many in the worldwide aviation community.
WE SALUTE OUR AVIATION VISIONARY, FAY GILLIS WELLS.
"THE WOMEN ARE GOING TO ORGANIZE. WE DON'T KNOW WHAT FOR." Blunt report of a New York Times columnist of our first meeting November 2, 1929 at Curtiss Field. Little did he know! Still fast friends on the same wave length, living charter members express their consuming interest at what has taken place since they started a club of 99 women pilots to help each other in their aviation goals. Without our undaunted backbone of strong members like Fay Gillis Wells working in the background to abet the women who share the love of flying, many of us would not be in the career positions we find ourselves today.
BORN in Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 15, 1908, Fay Gillis Wells lived in New Jersey and attended Michigan State Farming University. Fay found her way to Washington DC via New York City and four continents. Fay's father told her to find something to do or go back to college. Her first choice was flying; she quickly became a major aviation visionary with a tremendous following in the worldwide aviation community. As the daughter of a mining engineer and a foreign reporter Fay lived in many fascinating, primitive and dangerous places in the world. Fay recalls, "We never had a real home. We were adaptable. We were used to dreaming whatever we could dream."
PILOT GILLIS soloed on September 1, 1929, and earned pilot's license #9497 on October 5, 1929 at Curtiss Flying Service in Valley Stream just 10 days before her 21st birthday. Curtiss hired Fay to demonstrate and sell Curtiss Wright Aircraft across the country. During this job, Fay met Amelia Earhart and other charter members of The Ninety-Nines.
EARLY IN THE 1930s Fay began her second and equally distinguished career as a journalist. Her father's business took the family to Russia. Fay free-lanced for the New York Herald Tribune and many aviation magazines from the Soviet Union from 1930-1934. Fay became the first woman to pilot a Soviet civil aircraft and the first foreigner to own a glider in the Soviet Union. In 1933, Wiley Post chose Fay to arrange the landing fields and fuel storage logistics for the critical Russian leg of Post's record solo flight around the world. Fay met pioneer journalist and pilot, Linton Wells in 1935. Eloping saved her life, because she had accepted Wiley Post's invitation to accompany him on his fatal flight. The Wells became the only husband and wife team of foreign correspondents to have front page byline articles side by side.
WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT WELLS spent 13 years covering Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. In 1972, she was one of only 3 women selected to accompany Richard Nixon on his historic visit to the Peoples Republic of China. Through her efforts in the White House, many more women served in Government. Fay said, "If I were younger, I would probably become an astronaut," while on a NASA committee working to choose the first journalist to fly in a space shuttle.
A NINETY-NINE TO EMULATE
CONSISTENT SERVICES by Fay, like chapters in a book, embody the goals and ideals of The Ninety-Nines. Since the 1929 inception, Fay hosted that now famous first meeting and served as the first Secretary. Ready and willing, Fay accepted time consuming jobs other volunteers routinely decline. Though she spends most of her time in Washington DC, the capital of the USA, she is still very much a townsman of the world and extensive international traveler, who has continued to personally interact with most overseas 99s since 1929. Life in Alexandria, Virginia, Washington DC area was and is a constant round of public service running the gamut from aeronautical to other charitable groups. "It is easy to single out names like Amelia Earhart, Blanche Noyes, Ruth Nichols, Teddy Kenyon and Jacqueline Cochran," claimed Past International President Bernice Steadman in a "Life begins at Forty" Presidential statement in 1969 honoring Charter members. "Yet we must also remember and CHERISH THE NITTY-GRITTY WORK OF THE VAST NUMBERS OF UNREMEMBERED MEMBERS WHO HELPED BUILD THE GREAT AND MANY FACETED ORGANIZATION we now enjoy." Fay's 63 years encompass the world environment. If only vicariously, we each hold a meaningful part of the world in our hands.
1967 AN INTERNATIONAL 99 CONVENTION held in Washington, DC during the historic International Tourist Year, proclaimed by the United Nations. Pulling out all stops, Fay spotlighted the exciting progress toward internationalness of women in aviation since 1929 by chairing that first truly international convention. Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen composed our special song, "Come Fly with Me", just for our convention. Of more than 3000 members in 27 areas of world, 39 non-USA 99s attended. 19 stayed for 2-week extended free tours and hospitality of US 99s, who opened their homes to the guests. 50 USA State Governors issued proclamations inviting our touring 99s to their states, color birds-eye photos of each state and original proclamations signed by the Governors with gold seals were bound in 25-pound albums earmarked for embassies and heads of states in countries where there were 99s. We presented one of these albums to the Smithsonian Institute, one to President Johnson at the White House and one to Kennedy Space Center. 99s planted 3 holly trees at Dulles Airport and at the White House. With aid from the FAA and Coast Guard Ann Pellegrino transmitted a message from Howland Island to the convention from her round the world flight. When each foreign 99 returned home, she duly presented her album to her respective head of state. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey stated: "As America extends the welcome mat to visitors from all over the world, few groups better exemplify the spirit, the zest, the adventure of travel than the famed Ninety-Nines, the international organization for licensed women pilots. Their friendship-in-flying unites their skills and interest across space and time, over boundaries and barriers. As Chairman of President Johnson's Special Cabinet Task Force on Travel USA, I am delighted to note The Ninety-Nines' imaginative program of dramatizing their international Fly-In. They will be far more than passive spectators; they will bring many parts of the world with them; they will strengthen friendship and understanding; they will lift our spirits high in ceiling unlimited for peace and good will." AND UNDER FAY'S LEADERSHIP, INDEED 99s STRENGTHENED FRIENDSHIP.
99 CLUB HISTORY BOOK 1941
Fay writes of the attributes in her long lost friend, Amelia Earhart and recognizes her accomplishments at every possible anniversary date. We know Fay herself has exactly the same unique characteristics in many ways. In this 15th year history, Fay writes "AE was modest with quiet determination to help women. ...She sincerely believed in The 99s and their roles in advancing the cause of aviation. ...Amelia accepted no favors, because she was a woman, through time and again she proved women could compete on equal terms with men in aviation while she broke record after record and was showered with honors, she never counted her success as personal glory, but rather as new steps up the ladder of accomplishment for all women in aviation. And so in memory of Amelia's unselfish interest and enthusiasm for all women in aviation 99s founded the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship Fund on April 7, 1940 to help deserving 99s to further their accomplishments."
1963 AIRMAIL STAMP
Particularly through her gigantic efforts, the Post Office department agreed to issue an airmail stamp honoring our first President. Fay with her enthusiastic committee gave the AE stamp worldwide acceptance and publicity by means of a huge world fly-away on the first day of issue, the 66th anniversary of Amelia's birthday, July 24, 1897. Almost a dozen still active pilots, charter members flew hundreds of letters outbound from Amelia's birthplace Atchison, Kansas reaching every capital and nearly every point of the globe. Fay's vision, the 1963 world flyaway by charter 99s relaying to other pilots was a tremendous undertaking. Its huge success forcibly established women's' place in aviation and fixed the brainstorm of master flyaways in Fay's mind-eye. Thus, one followed 10 years and another 20 years later from the International Forest of Friendship.
FOREST OF FRIENDSHIP 1976-present
"You've never seen a tree, until you've seen it's shadow from the air." Fay paraphrased one of AE's best known quotes, linking her love of trees and her love of flight. "Fay Wells' vision, persistence and dedication actually brought the forest into being. Fay's history of friendships with well known people is one of her most striking characteristics," quotes her co-founder and Co-General Chairman Joe Carrigan with Forest of Friendship, Atchison, Kansas, the only living memorial honoring people who made a contribution to aviation or space. "It's amazing, Fay Wells in her wide acquaintance with very prominent people as well as aerospace. Through her personal contacts, Fay has been able to persuade internationally famous people such as astronauts to speak at Forest celebrations." Committee members, former Atchison Mayor David Dennis describes his friend Fay as, "very pleasant and very strong willed. When she has an idea, it's done one way or the other." Mickey Parmun summed up Fay as, "very warm, very giving, very outgoing, very very knowledgeable, when I say knowledgeable, I say about anything you want to talk about. I don't care if it happened yesterday or in 1929, she can tell you all about it."
GAZEBO DEDICATION ON JUNE 22, 1991
Highlighted 15th annual International Forest of Friendship ceremony. Honoring co-founder Fay Gillis Wells, "The structure, which offers a focal point for dedication ceremonies as well as a friendly spot to rest after strolling among the trees, was planned by the Forest committee and built through donations of Wells' many friends throughout the world. Fay's dedication through the years is an inspiration to those who worked with her and a joy to those hundreds who visit the Forest of Friendship annually," appears under the photo of the Gazebo on the 1991 brochure.
EVER OUR AVIATION VISIONARY
Fay's words in planning the 1992 Forest of Friendship ceremony describes "commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Visions of Flight...beginning with Leonardo da Vinci (1450-1519) anchoring an unending rainbow reaching to the stars. da Vinci is acknowledged as the first person to envision man-controlled flight, as detailed in the drawings of his airplanes, parachute and the ornithopter. The rainbow is never-ending because man's curiosity and quest for knowledge already has catapulted him into the stars on an exciting voyage to the galaxies."
WITHOUT THE NAMELESS of the past, present and future, no organization can survive. Respect for our heritage and anticipation of our future are prerequisites to membership. "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped," Robert Kennedy observed.
WORLD PEACE THROUGH FLYING
Predicted world peace in his book, The Shape of Things to Come, the great British novelist H. G. Wells wrote that peace would come about through an international association of flyers -- not statesmen or scientists or soldiers -- but flyers. Like FG Wells, HG Wells sensed that the one profession capable of sublimating mankind's capability for greed, selfishness and confining provincialism was that of the aviator.
J.H.Shaffer, as FAA Administrator observed, "Purposes, goals and achievements of The 99s indicate such an ideal state is attainable. Suffice it to say that the world owes a great deal to its women for their contribution to aviation progress and to world peace." With recent global warming, no one embodies this concept of WORLD FRIENDSHIP THROUGH FLYING greater than Fay Gillis Wells.
Researched and written by Doris Abbate
This is written based on my personal understanding of Fay as a friend and mentor for 32 years, who many times fired up my 32 year commitment to 99s. - December 3, 1991
FAY GILLIS WELLS
A Brief Capsule
Fay Gillis Wells contributions is a consistent series of events, big and small during each of 6 decades of membership. Peers proclaim Fay is "innovative with a clear vision, the "lady with know-how to carry out ideas." Fay focuses on needs of local 99s in all areas of the world, on youth, trees as living memorials in an international demeanor in all countries equally. In 1991, Fay's peers proclaim her "the lady who knows enough people in high place throughout the world to get things done."
Doris Abbate August 31, 1996