Monday, December 8, 2008

WASP Betty Jane Williams, 44-W-6

It is with a sadness and sense of loss which cannot be expressed in words that I announce the passing of Betty Jane (BJ) Williams. Betty passed away at 5:15am (Pacific) this morning from complications related to the massive stroke she suffered on November 12th. As many of you know, Betty was my Aunt and the inspiration for my career in the Air Force. She was a friend, a confidant, a "sister", a peer and a patriot. But most of all, she was family to us all. Her contributions to the WASPS, the community, civic organizations, educational institutions, the U.S. Military and to her Nation will be remembered and sorely missed.

Please join with me, my wife Cheryl and my family in saying a prayer for Aunt Betty and wishing her Godspeed as she flies her P-40 over St. Peter's gates. I wish to thank many of you who have expressed your sympathies and prayers for Aunt Betty since she was stricken ill. They were deeply appreciated and you have our heartfelt thanks.

If I have inadvertantly left anyone off this e-mail, I sincerly apologize. Trying to keep up with all the e-mails has been a chore. If I have missed someone, please pass this message along. Thank you so very much. Information regarding arrangements will be forthcoming as soon as possible.

Scott F. Fenwick, SMSgt, USAF, Ret

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A MEMORIAL SERVICE for B.J. WILLIAMS will be held on JANUARY 24, 2009, 2pm, at the Garden Chapel in Canoga Park, CA.

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Since no one could ever tell her story better, here is Betty's entry, "in her own words'', from pages 432 and 433 of Betty Turner's "Out of the Blue and Into History."

BETTY JANE WILLIAMS
WOODLAND HILLS, CALIFORNIA

Born and raised in Kingston, Pennsylvania with an older brother and younger sister, I had two loving parents who supported my adventurous activities. As an honor student, avidly pursing an art career, but anxious to learn to fly, I competed with 50 males in the non-college Civilian Pilot Training Program, win a flight scholarship and my pilot's license in June 1941.

The attack on Pearl Harbor prompted the government to stop all general aviation flying on both coasts. So to stay in aviation, I applied to Colonial Airlines as a stewardess. (They were the only airline that did not require you to be a registered nurse at that time.) I was hired, trained and began flying in DC-3's between Montreal, Canada and new York. When the Air Transport Command approached the airlines to establish instrument flight training schools, I was selected to attend Northeast Airlines Pilot Training at the University of Vermont and became a licensed Link trainer instructor, under contract with Wartime Training Service, teaching Navy pilots, airline and commercial pilots instrument flight techniques. A year later when my contract renewal come up, I opted to enter WASP training at Sweetwater, Texas.

Upon graduation, I was assigned as an engineering test pilot, flying single and multi-engine training planes (AT-6, AT-7, AT-10, 10-11, UC-78) as well as the P-40 at Randolph Field, San antonio, Texas.

After WASP deactivation, I became a commercial pilot, flight instructor and head of instrument ground school for North American Airport Corporation, Westchester County Airport, White Plains, New York, and other airports in the area, 1945-48. During this period, I created, emceed and produced the first aviation network TV show over CBS and NBC, New York.

Subsequently, I moved to California and worked four years for North American Aviation, (now Rockwell-Boeing), as a technical writer, producing the Flight Operations Manual on the B-45, 4-engine jet bomber and Maintenance Manuals on various military aircraft. Wrote and directed a series of films on the F-89 jet fighter, used during the Korean War.

I received a direct commission in Air Force Reserves 1949, and in 1952, during the Korean War, I was called to active duty as a TV writer-producer with the USAF first TV Squadron, pioneering the use of TV for military purposes. I was also the unit's Public Information Officer. Served 28 years in Air Force Reserves with Sec'y of Air Force, Office of Public Affairs on the West Coast and two years with the Marines in the same speciality. Worked with press, radio, TV and motion picture studios, retiring in 1979 as Lt. Colonel. My final assignment was to produce a TV film re: women now (1977-78) being trained as Air Force Pilots. This gave me an opportunity to inform the public that the WASP were the "first" women military pilots!

For 20 years, I was a motion picture-TV writer, director, producer for Lockheed Sales Promotion Department; subjects covered missiles, F-104, P-3 Orion, L-1011, propjet Electra, many research programs, weapon systems and other tactical aircraft. Films were distributed worldwide in several languages. I produced over 100 films, winning 12 national film awards.

Professional affiliations: one of founding members (1957) Information Film Producers of America. I held several national offices including National President; Los Angeles Advertising Women-President (1965-66); WASP WWII, National President 1948-1949, Editor WASP News 1947, Public Relations Director, 1973-80, Western Regional Director 1988-90; and President, Southern California WASP 1998-99.

Named: "Women of Achievement" by Business and Professional Women 1966; nominated "Outstanding Mobilization Augmentee in Air Force Reserves," 1974 by the Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Information, Los Angeles, featured in 1976 edition The world's
Who's Who of Women, Cambridge, England. Selected as "Pioneer Woman of the Year" 1993 by Los Angeles City Council. Inducted into "CINDY Hall of Fame" 1996, one of two people so honored by International Film/TV Producers Association. Inducted into "International Forest of Friendship," June 1996 for exceptional contributions to aviation.

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There is more.  Since writing these words in 1996,  B.J. continued to charge head-first into life-- serving the WASP organization as Region I Director with many, many other projects on her list.  Her last public event was on Veterans Day, 2008.   She was the featured speaker at a ceremony/celebration of WASP Gertrude Tompkins Silver, one of 38 WASP who died serving her country.   

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From the first time I met her, I considered BJ Williams "a force of nature," because she was curious--about everything, and she challenged everything. She wanted to know what was happening, who was in charge, why it was taking so long and what could be done about it. I was fortunate, because I always managed to come up with an answer that pleased her, which was not an easy thing to do. However, I believe that, because my answers were always from the heart, she could read that.

Being around BJ made me feel like I needed to double-check the spelling on everything. She appreciated those who had done their homework. She could also spot BS from a great distance, as exemplified by the story of the 'Hollywood wanna be interviewer' who had called me to volunteer to record WASP Interviews--using his students and the studio at a local college in LA. I was skeptical, but called BJ to do the 'test interview.' She agreed. She sent me a copy of the video of her interview. I was completely 'under-whelmed', as she was, when I saw the result--many close ups on HIS face, HIS beautiful tan and HIS perfectly bleached teeth. No students to be seen--they were all behind the cameras recording their TEACHER--with a few 'shots' of the WASP. It became all about HIM--how he phrased his questions and how he looked so sincerely into the camera--and not a whole lot about the WASP. However, BJ politely turned his questions around--and challenged him. What resulted was a whole lot of pauses--while he thumbed thru his index cards. I think she actually had a good time.

My last phone conversation with BJ was the week before her stroke. She called to ask about the Fly Girls exhibit--did we get a response from Fed Ex about the shipping--and how was it going? She always asked about our project and our plans, and she always answered my postings with a 'thank you' email, which I truly appreciated.

I'll miss that. And I'll miss those challenging questions, 'What are you up to, why isn't it going faster and what can be done about it!'

submitted by Nancy Parrish, Dec. 8, 2008

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