Saturday, January 6, 2018

Gloria Whitton Heath, 44-5 | December 16, 2017

"When I was a freshman at Smith (College), my brother, then enrolled in his university's CPTP program, had talked his instructor into taking me up.  The brief flight set the course for my future."
                  WASP Gloria Heath

Aviation pioneer and longtime Greenwich, CT resident, Gloria W. Heath, passed on peacefully at her home on Saturday, December 16, 2017. She was 95. 

Gloria was born in New York City to Royal Vale and Lillian Hart Heath in 1922.  She graduated from the Putney School in Vermont in 1939, and Smith College in 1943, where she was a competitive and dedicated three-sport athlete, playing basketball, ice hockey, and lacrosse as an undergraduate at Smith. 

She went on to compete nationally and internationally in Women's Lacrosse. In 1951, she traveled to Great Britain as a member of the touring team. Gloria also served as President of the U.S. Women's Lacrosse Association, and she was inducted into the Inaugural Class of the Smith College Pioneer Athletic Hall of fame in 1971. In 2006, she was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. 

While Gloria was at Smith College, her older brother, Royal, encouraged her to fly. He was taking flying lessons at the time and had his instructor take her up in a plane. Her love for flying was so great, that she encouraged 14 other women attending Smith College to take flying lessons also, and they all bought a plane together. Eventually, Gloria founded the Smith College Flying Club, and by the time she graduated in 1943, she had obtained her pilot's license.

Dedication of the Smith Flying Club airplane "Bird of Paradise"
Dec. 1941.  Center, wife of Smith College President.
to her right, Gloria Heath, with a sash.

When America entered World War II, Gloria was able to combine her love for flying and her love for her country.  Upon graduating from Smith College, she applied for and was accepted into the Army Air Force Flight Training program for women pilots (WASP).  She arrived at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas along with 132 other hopeful young women pilots.   Only 72 young women, including Gloria, completed the seven months of training, graduated, and earned their silver WASP wings.  

Gloria's army orders sent her to Freeman Army Air Field in Seymour, Indiana to fly AT-10's as an engineering test pilot.  Soon, she was transferred to Pocatello Army Air Base in Pocatello, Idaho, where she flew B-26 tow target missions.  She was the only WASP on the base.  Her last assignment was Dalhart Army Airfield, Dalhart, Texas, where she flew with the 2nd Air Force from the 12 December 1944 to 20 December 1944 when the WASP were disbanded.

Richard R. Hatton, supervisor, Bell Helicopter Training
and Gloria Heath, April 11, 1947
At the end of WWII, Gloria began working in the field of Aviation safety, becoming a founding member of the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit organization which encourages aviation safety around the world. She wrote a manual for pilots instructing them on how to ditch a plane in the water with the least damage to the plane. Her devotion to flight safety spanned more than two decades. In 1965, she became the assistant director of the Cornell-Guggenheim Safety Center, and in 1968, she founded her own search and rescue consulting company, SAR-ASSIST. She was an innovator, and she became a major contributor to the development of the satellite-based search and rescue system. 

Gloria Heath and her Congressional Gold Medal

In recognition of her significant contributions to flight safety, she received the Amelia Earhart Award in 1957 and was awarded the Laura Tabor Barbour International Air Safety Award in 1965. She was inducted into the Women In Aviation International Pioneering Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2001, was listed as one of the 100 most influential women in aviation by Women in Aviation International.  

In 2010 Gloria, along with all the Women Airforce Service Pilots, was awarded The Congressional Gold Medal, highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow,  for her wartime service. 

In 2010, Greenwich, Connecticut's First Selectman, Peter Tesei, issued a proclamation making May 11 Gloria W. Heath Day in Greenwich.  In 2012, Gloria was chosen as an Eagle by the USAF Gathering of Eagles Foundation.

Gloria Heath with Col Leo Thorsness, Medal of Honor
and fellow Eagle, class of 2012.

Although Gloria's life had been filled with outstanding accomplishments, she remained a humble, and deeply caring and giving individual, who sought only to help others. She was predeceased by her brother, Royal Vale Heath, Jr., and is survived and will be greatly missed by all her beloved friends who feel very blessed to have known her and to have shared in different parts of her life journey. She will remain an inspiration to young women as a pioneer for women in aviation.

Funeral arrangements were conducted privately by Coxe & Graziano Funeral Home, 134 Hamilton Avenue, Greenwich. Memorial donations in her name may be directed to First Church of Christ Scientist Greenwich, 11 Park Place, Greenwich, CT 06830.

Respectfully reposted from the Greenwich Timewith additional WASP information and photos by Wings Across America

Personal Note:  Gloria Heath was one of the most softspoken, humble, kind WASP I've ever met.  What an honor to have known her and traveled with her.  She was always surprised by anyone wanting her autograph but was always willing to spend the time to lean in, smile, and make new friends.  What a joy she was.

God bless all of those who knew and loved Gloria and to those who will long be inspired by her passion for aviation safety.

More on Gloria:

Higher Purpose

Women's Aviation Pioneer - Gloria Whitton Heath

A WASP and So Much More