Jerrie Mock died yesterday, at the age of 88.
Don’t know who that is? Join the club: unlike Amelia Earhart, Mock has never acheived mythic status in American life. This is an unfortunate statement about what captures our attention, since she, in 1964, succeeded in doing what Earhart had tried and failed to do 27 years previously: She became the first woman to fly around the world solo.
Unlike Earhart, Mock was not a glamorous and begoggled action hero. In a movie of her life, she would probably not be played by Angelina Jolie, or Scarlett Johansson. She was a housewife from Columbus, Ohio: mother of three, five feet tall and a hundred pounds; she had dimples. Looking at pictures of her, it would not be hard to imagine her serving home-made banana-nut bread to the bridge club, or knitting baby clothes for a friend. An aeronautical engineering student in college, she learned to fly at age 32, and made her 29-day round-the-world voyage six years later.
In Columbus, she’s something of a local hero — there’s even a statue about 30 miles outside of town. Everywhere else, her achievement has always been overshadowed by the more flamboyant failure that preceded her.
The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons
if it gets through to you
Then your life becomes a travelogue
Amelia, it was just a false alarm.
— Joni Mitchell, “Amelia”
Oddly enough, Mock’s lack of fame never bothered her: she did not want the kind of publicity that Earhart had courted, and she remained a shy, perky little woman who eventually wrote a book about her adventure, but otherwise maintained her privacy and lived the balance of her life without fanfare.
Perhaps, now that she’s gone, Mock’s story will begin to accumulate the glamor that she refused to accept during her lifetime, and new generations of children will learn who she was, and think about what she did, and take hope that there are still opportunities for excellence in our shrinking world, still ways for a young woman (or man, why not?) to take a moment out of her life to just go, and be, and fly.