To fly: Where for a time one can soar high above the world’s many problems to a place of peace, and view vistas so beautiful, they can touch one’s heart and captivate one’s mind. This was what Evelyn sought.
But being a woman when America and many other parts of the world often limited the careers of women, becoming a pilot would demand persistence and talent.
Born Evelyn Stone on November 4th, 1909 her mother was a school teacher and her father was a conductor on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. With their encouragement, Evelyn would later graduate from Tennessee Wesleyan College at a time when most women didn’t attend college.
After graduation, she became a 6th grade school teacher.
Then while taking summer classes at the University of Tennessee, Evelyn met and fell in love with W. J. Bryan and they married in 1931. This was during the Great Depression when times were very hard, yet just two years later; the couple borrowed $250 to boldly open a laundry and dry-cleaning shop.
But when World War ll hit America in 1941, Evelyn’s husband enlisted in the Army hoping to learn to fly. Instead, the Army assigned him to a military base laundry. But Evelyn too desired to fly and in1944, she began taking flying lessons.
“He started in to fly but ended up washing clothes,” Evelyn told the Associated Press in 2005. “I was washing clothes and ended up flying.”
Evelyn got her pilot’s license in 1945, her commercial certificate in 1946 and she became a flight instructor in 1947.
Over the next six decades, through 2005 when she was 96 years old, Evelyn would pilot airplanes 5 ½ million miles, equivalent to 23 trips to the moon. She flew 57, 635.4 hours, which is 6 ½ years in the air, more pilot time than any other woman in history.
In addition, Evelyn taught 5,000 students to fly by the time she stopped counting her number of students, and certified over 9,000 pilots for the Federal Aviation Administration. She kept teaching until she was 96, the oldest flight instructor in history.
Evelyn also flew in airplane races, transported cargo, sold Cessna aircraft, wrote aviation industry articles and became one of the first women to receive a helicopter pilots’ license.
She was so extensively involved with aircraft that only one person, a man, ever piloted an airplane more miles than Evelyn, and she would have topped him had she not gotten glaucoma, although she still had adequate vision to fly.
But what finally stopped her was in 2006, at the age of 97 Evelyn was in an automobile accident and had a leg amputated. Yet she was still determined to fly, stopped only by her difficulty with her prosthesis.
“It’s not the flying that’s the problem,” Evelyn told USA Today in 2007. “It’s getting the prosthesis into the small planes. I’m working on it.”
Evelyn’s last flight as a passenger was in 2009 at the age of 100, and she continued to manage a small Tennessee airport past the age of 100.
But on May 10th, 2012, at the age of 102, Evelyn passed away having long survived both of her husbands. Her first husband, W.J. Bryan died in 1963 after 32 years of marriage and her second husband, Morgan Johnson whom she married in 1965 died in 1977.
Evelyn is survived by two grandsons and three great-grandchildren. But she is also survived by the many thousands of people she taught to fly and the thousands more women for whom she served as an inspirational example for what is possible if one is so determined.