Lest We Forget
by Lorraine O'Donnell Doyle
I met Bobbi Trout when I was six years old, at the Municipal Airport in Long Beach
California, during one of the exciting flying events of the time. It was the heyday of
women's intrusion into the field of aviation. Everyone was agog at the gumption,
audacity and seeming impudence of this new breed of female daredevil.
Not only were they invading a territory regarded as the private realm of dashing male
pilots, they were setting records and proving themselves worthy of recognition.
The first Women's Air Race of 1929 brought together brash and brave young women. They
were immediate hits. The press hounded them. Everything they did was in the paper,
many of them graduated to celebrity. Bobbi Trout was among these, along with Pancho
Barnes, Louise Thaden, Amelia Earhart, Phoebe Omlie, Ruth Nichols, Gladys O'Donnell
and numerous others. They were the first wave of famous, pioneer women pilots bent
on record-setting and speeding across the sky in competition. The public fell under
the spell of their breathtaking exploits.
* * * * * *
In 1996, I was in the process of writing a book about my mother and father, Lloyd
and Gladys O'Donnell, and their golden days of flying in the 1920's and 30's.
Bobbi was the last remaining woman pilot alive who had taken part in the first
Women's Air Derby.I was anxious to locate her to get her 'take' on times of yore.
I went to some lengths to track her down, and could not believe my ears when someone
called to tell me she lived just 10 miles from my own house. More than a coincidence,
this was the finger of fate . . . I was convinced my project and a meeting with Bobbi
was destined to be more than a casual interview.
I was eager to call and tell her of my project...looking forward to hearing details
from one of the originals . . . to ask pointed questions about aspects of the race that
were never clearly defined.
So after a freakish 67 year lapse in time, I found myself standing on the porch of
the one and only Bobbi Trout. I had no idea what to expect. I knew she was in her 90's.
I was an intruder. She might not feel up to it . . . might not have time etc. Thoughts of
this sort crossed my mind as I rang the doorbell, and waited for a response.
When she opened the door I was immediately put at ease by a beaming smile, as though the
sun had suddenly come from behind a cloud. Her obvious pleasure in greeting me was a delight.
I was welcomed as the long lost child she remembered from times gone by. I was given a
loving hug as she guided me into her living room. This touching reception remains a
cherished memory. After that we leapt across the gap in time, becoming the dearest of friends.
There was a childlike candor about her that could charm a fly off the wall. She was
open-hearted and kind, a rare quality these days. Her husky voice coming from such a
slight little body seemed to bolster her energy. She was not well, but no one would
guess as she quickly changed the subject from herself to the visitor, or events taking
place in world news.
She always introduced me to her friends telling the story of our first meeting long
ago at the air races, when I was a child, and she and my mother were excited to be
among the female pioneers of aviation. This endeared her to me evermore. I visited
her every week, and was constantly amazed at her enthusiasm and great good humor.
No matter how trying her troubles or health problems, she was enthusiastic . . . radiating
heartfelt interest and pleasure at the sight of visitors. She brightened everyone's day
with laughter and cheer.
Her unassuming wonder despite her years was contagious. She trusted, and despite the
many times that trust was betrayed, her spirit and determination held her firmly to her goals.
She was never without goals.
Her TV was on night and day, and she was always ready to take a stand if necessary on
the latest world issues. Her ideas were definite and unique with ready solutions for
any and all problems.
Absorbed with life and more so with the lives of her friends, she was always there
with a sympathetic ear . . . a word of encouragement and a hug.
The fact that her caring and concern touched so many is the endearing quality which
many will feel deprived of now she has taken flight.
Born in times when integrity was considered a value, and a man's word was his bond . . . a
time when a lot of business was done on a handshake...a straightforward gaze that
looked a fellow in the eye . . .
She still held to these principles even as she fell victim to betrayals of trust.
"To dry one's eyes and
laugh at a fall,
and baffled, get up and
begin again . . . "
She lived life this way. One day Bobbi gave me a page of signatures she
had signed, saying,"Save these. They'll be worth something someday". In wobbly
handwriting at the top of the page was her rule of thumb:
"The basis for success is enthusiasm and burning desire."
In living her belief, she conveyed the message to all who knew her.
Her light will continue to shine in countless hearts. God has blessed her.
--Lorraine O'Donnell Doyle (Daughter of Gladys O'Donnell)
Second to None