WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish, 44-W-4
"Failure isn't failure unless you let it be. It's simply a change in direction. Just count your many blessings move on. With God's help, anything is possible!"
Deanie Bishop Parrish passed away peacefully in her home in Waco, Texas, on February 24, 2022, just one day shy of her 100th birthday. She met every challenge of her century-long life with spunk, determination, persistence, humor, kindness, integrity, steadfast faith, and a sparkle that lit up the room.
She was born Marie Odean Bishop on February 25, 1922; in a boxcar just off the main tracks in Defuniak Springs, Florida; to Jacob Ambus Bishop and Anna Ellen Bell. Nicknamed Odie, she was the middle child of seven brothers and sisters. In 1927, the family moved to the tiny town of Alturas in central Florida, where Odie followed her big sister to the one-room schoolhouse. Later that year, the family moved 30 miles south to the larger town of Avon Park. Odie again followed her sister to school, but the teacher said she was too young. Yet, her mom insisted the teacher test the young girl. Odie passed and began first grade a year and a half early. For the next 12 years, she never missed a day of school and graduated in 1939 as the Valedictorian at Avon Park High School. There may have only been 30 in her class, but she always said, “I’d still have been the Valedictorian even if there were 300!”
During the Bishop’s early days in Avon Park, they lived in a wooden-floored tent about four miles outside of town. When Odie was six, her family was fortunate to survive the Great Okeechobee Hurricane, now called Florida’s deadliest natural disaster. The young family took shelter in a cinder block home. The infamous Florida hurricane destroyed everything they owned except the family clock. It was found in a tree over a mile away.
While in high school, the five-foot-tall Odie played center on the basketball team until the team began traveling and she had to go to work to help support the family. By day, Odie was a bookkeeper and teller at the local bank, and by night, she was the cashier at the local movie theatre. When World War II started in Europe, the United States designated Avon Park as home to one of the hundreds of primary schools set up across America for young men to learn to fly. Young Odean, no longer called Odie, met the instructors as they cashed their checks at her bank. Convinced she was just as smart, if not smarter than the young cadets, she found an instructor and began taking lessons. Her first solo flight experience, taking off in a Piper Cub, was a harrowing one. Controlling the plane from the backseat as you do when you first solo, she was climbing to altitude and the control stick came off in her hand. She didn’t hesitate for one second as she tore her seatbelt off and climbed over the front seat just in time to keep the plane from stalling and crashing. Her instructor watched the whole thing from the ground and swore to himself if Odean made it down alive, she would never fly again! But when she finally landed safely and the stunned instructor found out why she landed from the front seat, he told her, “Now you know! You have the right stuff to be a pilot!” Her death-defying “stick story” made the local paper and subsequent publications later in her life.
Once America was thrust into WWII, Odean packed up and headed for Houston, Texas, found a job in a bank, and continued flying. After earning enough money to buy a third share in an airplane, she began flying with the Civil Air Patrol, patrolling the coast for downed aircraft and submarines. In 1943, she heard about the WWII Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) training program, and on her 21st birthday, she applied. She was granted an interview with the head of the program, Jacqueline Cochran.
Thus, she boarded a train to Fort Worth, Texas, passed her interview and all tests, including an Army physical, and was accepted into the WASP Class, 44-W-4. She then paid her way to Sweetwater, Texas, and from November 1943 to May 1944, she trained to fly ‘the Army Way.” Following graduation, she was sent to Greenville, Mississippi, to fly as an engineering test pilot. After a brief check out with a twin-engine aircraft, she was assigned to transition to fly the B-26 twin-engine bomber at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida. After completing the training, the Army kept her at Tyndall as an air-to-air tow target pilot to train B-24 gunners for combat. One B-24 pilot, Bill Parrish, who had just returned from evading capture after being shot down over Yugoslavia became the “love of her life.” He nicknamed Odean “Deanie,” a name she cherished the rest of her life.
The WASP disbanded on December 20, 1944, and Deanie and her older sister moved to Langley, Virginia, where she challenged the U.S. Air Force to hire her as the first civilian chief aircraft dispatcher. They did, and in June 1946, Deanie and Bill were married. Months later, she followed him to the Panama Canal Zone. With Bill gone much of the time, she was hired as personal private secretary for the director of operations for the 6th Air Force.
For the next 20 years, Deanie was a proud Air Force wife. She followed Bill on his assignments as they started their family. Their first daughter, Nancy Allyson, was born at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado. Their youngest daughter, Barby Anna, was born near Tachikawa Air Base at Tokyo General Hospital. Eventually, the Air Force sent the family to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey; Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama; and finally, to Ellington Air Force Base, Texas, where Bill retired.
In 1975, with two daughters in college and after thousands of hours volunteering at Houston Baptist Hospital Southeast, Deanie decided to do what she couldn’t’ do when she finished high school. Four years later, she graduated summa cum laude from the University of Houston.
Bill retired from his second career in the real estate business in 1981, and the couple moved to Waco, Texas, to be near their grandchildren. Deanie began volunteering for Historic Waco and the Waco Welcome Corps. When she wasn’t spending time with her grandchildren, which was her favorite thing, she and Bill cruised the country in their motor home on mission trips. In 1992, Deanie wrote “We Got the Stuff, the Right Stuff,” the only WASP rap song, for the 50th Anniversary of the WASP. Unfortunately, her Bill passed away in 1993.
With the encouragement of her daughter, Nancy, Deanie agreed to volunteer as the Assistant Director of Wings Across America, a project created to educate and inspire generations with the history of the pioneering WASP. Deanie and Nancy began a 24-year journey of interviewing and sharing the inspirational stories of more than 100 WASP. In 2003, they co-founded the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas. Deanie became an inspirational speaker as she continued to share stories about the WASP and helped lobby for the Texas WASP to be inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2007, Deanie and Nancy created a traveling FlyGirls exhibit for the Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. Deanie also began a campaign to lobby Congress to award the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal. At the official ceremony in 2010, Deanie proudly represented all WASP as the featured speaker at the ceremony where key U.S. Senators and the House Speaker presented the WASP with this well-deserved medal.
Deanie Bishop Parrish was a life-long Southern Baptist and a long-time member of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church. She served as secretary of the National WASP WWII organization, was inducted into the 99’s International Forest of Friendship, accepted the WASP Congressional Gold Medal, and also received a second Congressional Gold Medal for her service with the Civil Air Patrol. In 2011, she was honored as an Eagle in the Gathering of Eagles program at Maxwell Air Force Base, forever commemorating the heroes of our U.S. military. She was a proud Alumni By Choice of Baylor University, and as a pinnacle achievement, alongside her daughter, Nancy, she was inducted into the National Women in Aviation Pioneering Hall of Fame in 2015.
For Deanie, there was never an idea that was too big. Ensuring the WASP were in the history books was indeed a lofty goal, but she reached it. She raised the bar and challenged others to do the same. From learning to fly when women didn’t do that, to flying military aircraft to support WWII, to fighting for the Congressional Gold Medal that recognized the women who made such an impact…Deanie Bishop Parrish lived a blessed life that proved with God, nothing was impossible. She would challenge you to carry on that torch!
She was preceded in death by her husband, William Allison Parrish, daughter Barby Anna Parrish Williams, brothers HL, Willie J, Edward James, and sisters Ruby Lucille and Louise. Left to honor her memory are daughter, Nancy Allyson Parrish; grandson, Brady Williams and wife, Kimberly Williams; granddaughter, Brook Henry and husband, Michael Henry; her great-grandchildren Logan, Jonah, Charley Ann, and Jack; son-in-law Dale Williams, and brother Walton Bishop.
A private graveside service with military honors will be at Waco Memorial Park on March 4, 2022, as Deanie requested. The family invites you to sign the guest book at Wilkerson Hatch: 6101 Bosque Blvd. Waco, Texas 76710, beginning Wednesday morning, March 2 at 10 am. You are welcome to leave a message or memory on the “Tribute Wall” at www.WHBfamily.com.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to whatever touches your heart in memory of WASP Deanie Parrish. You will be helping your worthy cause, and in naming your honoree, you will be educating America. If you prefer, you may donate to the “Wings Across America Project” @ Baylor University. https://bbis.baylor.edu/give
Great Okeechobee Hurricane https://www.sun-sentinel.com/sfl-1928-hurricane-story.html
Video: The Stick Story https://vimeo.com/106602305/4ef5e2f96c
WASP Rap Song http://www.wingsacrossamerica.us/wasp/songs/rap.htm
Eagle Deanie Parrish https://goefoundation.org/eagles/parrish-deanie/
Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony https://vimeo.com/106629651
Women in Aviation International Pioneering Hall of Fame: https://www.wai.org/pioneers/2015/deanie-
Deanie Parrish--Wings Across America http://www.wingsacrossamerica.org/about.html
Video: We Got the Stuff: https://youtu.be/RFPJ9xUrnno
I've always said that mom raised the bar so high, I would have to learn to fly to clear it. I'm so grateful for her presence and partnership in my life. Her belief in me and in the Good Lord made me think bigger and do more than I ever thought I could. Of course, I absolutely believe that God's in charge, and He certainly has been. Just look what blessings overflowed in Deanie Parrish's life! Mom was an igniter...with just a word, she could start a virtual fire of enthusiasm and accomplishment. May God bless all of those who have been touched by this mighty woman of faith and determination. You can truly accomplish anything with God's help and just a little bit of mustard seed faith.
For more information, please google Deanie Parrish and just look at how God has truly blessed her and the WASP. So, go, Do. Make a difference in whatever you choose.