Pioneer pilot Ruth Jefford dies at 92

Alaska's first female air taxi pilot died at her home in Wasilla

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Ruth Jefford, a noted violinist and Alaska's first female commercial air taxi pilot, has died at 92.

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Jefford died Tuesday at her Wasilla home.

She was a founding member of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and flew planes in Alaska for 60 years. She also served as the concertmaster of the symphony orchestra for almost 30 years.

Jefford was born July 16, 1914, in Des Moines, Iowa, and began flying when she was 17 and living in Fremont, Neb.

She arrived in Anchorage in 1941 when her first husband, Jim Hurst, took a job with the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the predecessor of the Federal Aviation Administration, said friend Sandi Sumner, author of "Women Pilots of Alaska."

Jefford became the first woman licensed to instruct students at Anchorage's Merrill Field. She worked as a flight instructor before she and Hurst started International Air Taxi Service.

Female pilots were once a rarity, but Jefford said her passengers and students always treated her with respect.

"Discrimination? None that's been revealed to me. I get a little kidding from passengers who say, 'Do you really know how to fly this thing?'" she told the Anchorage Daily News in 1980.

Jefford divorced Hurst in the early 1960s. A decade later she married another pioneer Alaska pilot, Jack Jefford, who died in 1979.

She flew her Cessna 206 on a 140-mile round trip weekly for more than 20 years, delivering mail and supplies to the small community of Skwentna. In between those runs, she made numerous charter and personal flights around Alaska and outside the state.

"She was a real friendly person that got along with everybody. She did us a lot of favors other than just carrying the mail," said Joe Delia, 77, who has been the postmaster in Skwentna for 30 years. "I regretted that I never got to hear her play the violin. I always wanted to hear her play."

A violinist since age 9, Jefford launched her Anchorage orchestra career in 1946 and played until the early 1980s. She stopped because of arthritis, said Tom Payton, a longtime friend.

Frank Pinkerton, who conducted the orchestra in the 1960s, said the violin was on "an equal basis" with the plane.

"She loved to play and she loved to fly," he said.

Last year Jefford was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, created by the FAA to honor Alaskans who have flown safely for at least 50 years. At 82, she made her last solo flight, to Nebraska for a class reunion, Payton said.

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