Elinor Fairchild Stebbins, a World War II veteran and 2010 Congressional Gold Medal recipient for her service as one of 1,074 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), died on May 15, 2013, in Portland, Oregon. She was 88. "Fearless Fairchild," as she was known among the other WASP members, was an active WASP from January to December 1944. At age 19, and the youngest member of Class 44-W-6, she completed her military aviation training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, and was stationed at Grand Island Army Air Base, Nebraska. Though Stebbins flew several types of military aircraft during her service, her favorite was the B-17 heavy bomber, known as "The Flying Fortress." The WASP were established during WW II with the primary mission of flying noncombat military missions in the United States, thus freeing male aviators for combat missions overseas. More than 25,000 women applied to the WASP program; only 1,830 were accepted, and 1,074 completed flight training. Thirty-eight were killed while serving. The first women to pilot American military aircraft, these intrepid aviators flew almost every type of plane operated by the Army Air Force during WW II, logging more than 60 million miles. The WASP served as civilians, and it was not until 1977 that Congress at last recognized their service and granted them veteran status. Before and after her military service, Stebbins worked in New York City, doing editing and layout for the Esso Manhattan, a Standard Oil Company employee magazine that had a distribution of more than 5,000. She later wrote two regular columns for the Olympia News while living in Washington State. In addition to these early jobs, Stebbins edited books for the Devin-Adair Publishing Company, in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, for several years in the 1970s. During this time, she also started a business, personally designing and arranging for the manufacture of high-end riding shirts, which she sold to tack shops and at trade shows across the country for 20 years. She called her company à l'écuyère (French for "in the riding fashion") and used the trade name Claude Chapot. Stebbins was born Elinor Fairchild, in Pelham Manor, New York, in December 1924. She was the daughter of Benjamin Lewis and Elinor Parsons Fairchild. Stebbins' father was a five-term U.S. congressman from New York, serving on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and was born in January 1863, when President Lincoln was in office. Stebbins' mother was very active in community organizations, particularly the Girl Scouts of America. In 1950, Elinor Fairchild wed Robert Harnden Stebbins. They were married for nearly 56 years, until Mr. Stebbins died in 2006. They had six children and eight grandchildren. Five of their six children and seven of their eight grandchildren are living and make their homes in various locations throughout the United States. Stebbins also had a younger sister, Mabelle Fairchild Alexander, who with her husband, Arsen Vaharshak Alexander, had a son. Mabelle Alexander died in Littleton, New Hampshire, in 2007. Mrs. Stebbins was an accomplished horseback rider, small-business owner, writer, editor, poet, spouse, and mother. In the spring of 2000, she became the oldest graduate of Sweet Briar College, in Sweet Briar, Virginia, earning a four-year English and creative writing degree at the age of 75. She published many poems, essays, and other works throughout her life. At the age of 83, Elinor Stebbins was fortunate to have a second chance at love, meeting Charles Conrad Carter, M.D., of Portland, Oregon. Dr. Carter was a high school classmate of Mrs. Stebbins' husband, Robert. The young Mr. Stebbins and Mr. Carter both attended Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, and participated on the ski team together. Mrs. Stebbins and Dr. Carter spent five lovely years together. Dr. Carter resides in Portland, Oregon. Mrs. Stebbins was interred next to her husband, Robert, in Richmond, Virginia, where they made their home together for nearly ten years prior to Mr. Stebbins' death. Elinor Fairchild Stebbins was a pioneer. She served her country with honor. She forged new opportunities for women in several arenas and spent countless hours volunteering her time for community causes that helped those in need. She was a resilient and creative individual who valued kindness and reveled in seeing ordinary people doing remarkable and wonderful things.
Published in Greenwich Time on Jun. 23, 2013.