Eugene Woman Insists On Still

Winging It At 77

For Some, The Sky Is Never The Limit

By Mike Thoele

EUGENE, Ore. - At 77, Charmian Byers-Jones is shopping for an airplane.

She needs it, you see, as a replacement for the one she crashed last summer

in Minnesota. Meanwhile, she'll fly this winter in rental aircraft, keeping her

skills in tune for new adventures. Somewhere in the years just ahead, she

expects to knock off her 70th coast to-coast flight. She's an unlikely pilot, this

product of the old-family East Coast. Herancestors reached America's

shores in 1630, and the ties to kin and friends in the Northeast are still

strong. But, surrounded by books, artworks and a vast classical music

collection, she's lived for more than 40 years in a classic hilltop house in


A genteel existence, it seems at first glance. But the pink '67 Plymouth convertible

parked beneath the old house's portico, as well as the newer Laser sport coupe, suggest there may be something more going on than knitting and the cataloging of

grandchildren's pictures. Byers-Jones keeps  life interesting by keeping her feet off the ground.

“Flying is an individual kind of thing,'' she says. “It expands you. That's

why I like it.”

“I think I've discovered that people are happiest when they are going out of

themselves, when they're expanding. It's like Einstein's expanding universe.

It's growing that makes you tick on all cylinders. And it's contracting and

being introverted and hiding behind bushes that turns life into a negative.''

Byers-Jones grew up in New Jersey. Her father, a lawyer who liked outdoor

adventuring, introduced his daughter to hiking, camping and the world of plants.

She attended a private school, where she graduated from high school at 16. Then it

was off to prestigious Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She completed a degree in

English and spent a year performing with a repertory playhouse in New Jersey. A

1934 marriage ended in divorce. She was married again in 1947 to Herman

Gilhausen. They came West and he accepted a teaching position in the University of

Oregon School of Music. In their hilltop house, which had been built in the early

1900s, Byers-Jones raised three children and launched a small nursery business.

But, by 1959, her situation had changed. “I was very much alone,'' she says. “I was widowed. My children were goingoff to school. So, rather than mope about, I decided

to change my way of liferadically. I decided I'd learn to fly.'' She was 46 then. Her

decision put her into all-male classes with Korean War veterans learning flying on

the GI Bill. A few of them made her feel less than welcome. But the business of flying

itself concerned her more. “At first it was scary,'' she says. “I remember, on my first

ride, I had the feeling that this was somewhere I shouldn't be. I felt like I was a

balloon and someone had let go of the string. But those feelings went away pretty

quickly. After about five lessons, Irealized I could really do this thing. And soloing for the first time was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had.'' Her private pilot's license set her off on three decades of airborne adventuring. She's explored Canada,

Mexico and Alaska, as well as regions such as the Grand Canyon and the Painted

Desert. Frequently she traveled with a pet poodle named Talleyrand. Sometimes she camped out at lonely airstrips, sleeping beneath the wing of her aircraft. One strip

was so remote that antelope had to be shooed off the runway before shecould depart.

She was married again, and divorced. But flying remained a constant in her life. She

joined The 99's, a national organization of women pilots. She's competed in many of

their air races and derbies in the Western states. Such activities broadened her

contacts. Max Conrad, an aviation pioneer witheight flight-endurance records,

became a friend. At his invitation, she helped him fly a small, twin-engine plane

across the Atlantic, hopping from Newfoundland to Iceland to England. In all her

flying adventures, she's been cautious about weather, but she's been caught in

souring conditions a few times and worked her way out of trouble. Once, a New

Hampshire wind shear sent her plane skidding, nose down, intoa tree. But she

walked away. Last June, flying with a friend, Edward Northrop, a federal judge from Baltimore, her 1975 Cessna lost engine power near Cottage Grove, Minn.“It was like somebody pulling a big brake,'' she told a Minnesota newspaper after the crash. I

could see the propeller turning lazily. I saw a cornfield on the right and I headed for it. We didn't quite make the cornfield. I thought, `I've had a good life. It has been interesting

. I have many friends. If this is it, this is it.' I also said, `I hope this is a soft landing.

'' Soft enough. The Cessna didn't have the glide to make the cornfield. So she took it

down between some trees and hit the earth at about 50 miles an hour, narrowly

missing a house. Byers-Jones escaped with a stiff neck; Northrop had only bruises.

Since then, her flying has been mostly confined to riding with friends. But she'll put

in some rental time this winter while she's searching for areplacement plane. Her

personal routine, which includes work as theadministrator of a private trust,

remains as busy as ever.

Charmian Byers-Jones

                  Eugene, Oregon 1913 - 2013

Charmian Byers-Jones, 100+ Aviatrix, professional horticulturalist and

devoted bridge player. Charmian “Tahmee” Byers-Jones passed gently, and

surrounded with love, this past Monday, December 30th. Born Charmian

Woodruff in June of 1913, she was the tenth generation of her family born

in Elizabeth, NJ. She spent her summers at her family’s home on Lake

Sunapee in New London, NH. A bright, adventurous young woman, she

begged for a higher education. She graduated from Smith College, cum

laude, in 1934. She attended the Bread Loaf School of English, and was

witness to the famous quarrels between Robert Frost and Truman Capote.

Married in New London in 1934, she had four children by her first husband,

three surviving into adulthood. Charmian worked as a costume designer for

the Papermill Playhouse in Milburn, NJ. She moved with her second husband,

an opera singer, to Eugene, Oregon in 1947 when he joined the music

department at the University of Oregon. She turned to aviation at 46 years of

age after her husband’s death, saying, “I felt very much alone, so rather than

mope about, I decided to change my life radically. I signed up for a package

of ten lessons at a local airport.” As a pilot she flew search and rescue with

the Civil Air Patrol, piloted more than 70 cross country flights (most solo,

with a standard poodle as her co-pilot), and crossed the Atlantic in a small

twin engine plan with her friend Max Conrad, an aviation pioneer. In 1960

she joined the Ninety-Nines, the organization of women pilots founded by

Amelia Earhart. She competed in a number of air races and derbies in the

west, leading her team to victory in a Petticoat Derby. She also obtained

her glider’s license. She had her own nursery in Eugene, developing a new

species of hybrid rhododendron. She loved her family and friends fiercely,

and was quoted in a newspaper article at 77, “I’m fortunate. I have had

friends of all ages. I’m happy about that. I know people my age who are sad

because they’ve limited their friendships to people their own age, and then

lose them one by one.” It was this attitude and her daily scotch that were her

secrets to longevity. She chose this quote from John Lennon for her 100th birthday celebration, “Count your age by friends not years, count your life by smiles, not tears.”

In 2003, Charmian moved to New London to be closer to her family year round.

Charmian is survived by her children: Valerie W. Gage of Norton, MA, Nicholas

Gilman of Washington, DC, and Charmian G. Abel of Oakland, CA. She has five grandchildren: Chetwood Gage of New London, NH, Aaron Gage of Attelboro, MA,

Victoria Gage of New London, NH, Lindsey Gage of Royersford, PA and Margaret

Gilman of Attelboro, MA. She is also survived by four beloved great grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: the Lake Sunapee Protective

Association of Sunapee, NH, the Ninety-Nines or the

Friends of Tracy Memorial Library in New London, NH

Owners since 2005: Also - See:


“Count your age by friends not years, count   your life by smiles, not tears.”

                                                       Charmian Byers-Jones quotes John Lennon

at her 100th Birthday Celebration