Friday, April 17, 2009
Flying emblematized her life
By Virginia Culver
The Denver Post-posted 4/17/09
At age 10 Sarah Symmes wanted to be a barnstormer or stunt flier.
But that didn't work out, so she joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and ferried military planes around the country during World War II.
Flying "was a metaphor for her life," said the Rev. Sandy Blake of St. Timothy Episcopal Church in Centennial.
A service for Symmes, who died March 15 just short of 93, will be at St. Timothy, 1401 E. Dry Creek Road, at 10 a.m. Friday.
Symmes "loved the independence of flying" and that extended to how she lived her life, Blake said. "She's been described by friends here as fearless, feisty and fun."
Symmes was a loyal volunteer at St. Timothy, spending many hours at the bedside of ailing members, said Sally Atchison, of Littleton, a St. Timothy member.
Sarah (Sally) Elizabeth Gibson was born April 2, 1916, in Charlotte, N.C. When she was a child, she moved with her family to Colorado because her mother had tuberculosis.
Her mother died when Sarah Gibson was small, so she and her brother, the late Denver City Councilman Hoot Gibson, lived for some time in a Denver orphanage.
She graduated from South High School and then, at 17, hitchhiked to California looking for a brother, said her niece, Elaine Little.
She sometimes slept in police stations for safety, Little said.
Symmes heard about the WASP program and went to Sweetwater, Texas, where the women were trained. But she was told she needed to first get 35 hours of flying time and that she had to pass a test.
She did both and became a WASP, stationed at a base in Kansas, where she and other women ferried and tested planes, and instructed male pilots, her niece said.
After the war, Symmes went to accounting school in Kansas City and came to Colorado in the mid-'80s.
She had had training in clinical pastoral education and volunteered countless home-visit hours through St. Timothy.
Symmes "was a very spiritual person, but that didn't stop her from being spunky," Blake said.
Symmes was divorced twice. Her third husband, Glen Symmes, died in 1985.
She is survived by another niece and two nephews.