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Learning to Fly

Marie Miller in about 1934, in front of the hangar at Raleigh Airport. (Photo via News & Observer)
Marie Miller in about 1934, in front of the hangar
at Raleigh Airport. (Photo via News & Observer)

As people all over eagerly take flight for new vacation adventures, it’s a good time to recall an era when flying itself was adventure enough – and female flyers were few and far between.

In 1927 – the year Charles Lindbergh flew The Spirit of St. Louis non-stop across the Atlantic – Marie M. Miller became one of the first women to work at an airport, according to an obituary on At age 20, she started taking flying lessons at Curtiss Field on Long Island, New York, where she also worked as a secretary. But before long, the boss – not eager to lose a good assistant to the dangerous pastime – paid her $750, “an exorbitant amount of money at the time,” to stop flying.

Miller may have been grounded (though she continued to co-pilot her family’s planes in the decades to come) but flying was still an important part of her life. According to her daughter, Miller really got in “on the ground floor” (so to speak) of aviation and would go on to become a pioneer in the civil aviation business. She knew the Beech and Piper families (famous for their airplanes) and actually did meet Lindbergh, as well as Amelia Earhart who took Miller up in a helicopter – which apparently she did not enjoy!

In 1931, Miller became the first woman traffic agent when she and her first husband Elmer Meyers moved south to manage North Carolina’s first airport in Raleigh. As such, Miller – described in one obituary as “pint sized” – was armed with a gun meeting incoming and departing planes. After Meyers died in an auto accident, she continued to manage the Raleigh Airport. She met and married her second husband, Truman W. Miller – an engineer for the Civil Aeronautics Administration – and together they trained students from the surrounding schools: N.C. State, Duke University and Wake Forest. In the ‘40s, Miller also wrote a column for the Raleigh News and Observer called “Wing Tips” about the early years and personalities in aviation.

During the Korean War, the Millers trained pilots for the Air Force in Kinston, N.C. and then at Bartow Air Base in Florida, where they eventually retired. Marie Miller died on Feb. 11, in Lakeland. She was 105.

Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has been a reporter with Newsday, writer for CNN, and Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."