Lelia Pearl Bragg Laska CHAMBERLAIN
Woodbine Funeral Home
3620 Nolensville Rd.
Nashville, TN

CHAMBERLAIN, Lelia Pearl Bragg LaskaAge 103. Born Lelia Pearl Bragg on April 29, 1909 on Chestnut Mountain, Summers County, WV, the former Fairbanks, AK resident took her last flight on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2012 at Richland Place nursing home in Nashville, TN. She was survived by her son, Nashville lawyer/college professor, Lewis L. Laska. She was the last survivor of the eight children born at home to John W. and Lanie C. Bragg. She was a pioneer aviatrix and educator. Pearl learned to fly in a Kinner Fleet bi-plane in 1933 and held a pilot's certificate until she was 97. Prior to World War II, the federal government established the Civilian Flight Training Program, a back-door method to train pilots for military service. Because of its name, it had to allow participation of women and black men, both generally thought incapable of learning to fly in that era. Pearl was given the black students to instruct and each one she taught received his wings. Pearl's regular occupation was as a public school teacher from the age of 17 until her retirement in 1972. She was a W.A.S.P (Women Airforce Service Pilot) trainee during the war and was honorably discharged. She also served as a cryptologist at the Pentagon where she received the first message from Guadalcanal. In 1945, following her dream to be a full-time pilot, Pearl moved to Nome, Alaska and worked as a flight instructor and bush pilot. The next year she became the first woman to solo a single-engine airplane (a 1939 Piper J4) up the Alaska Highway. The FAA recognized her achievements as a pioneer Alaska aviator in 2006. Scorning the belief that Alaska Natives (Eskimos, etc.) were unable to learn flying, she taught many, including Holger Jorgensen, who became the first Native hired as a pilot by a scheduled air line. In 1946, Pearl married Lewis Lincoln Laska, a merchant and fur dealer in McGrath, AK. Their son was born the next year. Lew, from a pioneer family, died four months later at the age of 50. Pearl continued to operate her husband's store and parka factory for another four years. She returned to teaching in Homer, and then Fairbanks, AK. She continued to teach flying on the side. Her ground-based hobby was sewing fur parkas, kuspuks and dolls. After several decades of summer school work, Pearl received an undergraduate degree from the University of Alaska in 1955. She received a master's degree from Miami University of Ohio in 1959, and her thesis was a history of civilian aviation in Alaska. A sabbatical leave spent at George Peabody College (now a part of Vanderbilt University), Nashville, in 1963-64, qualified her as the first special education teacher in Fairbanks. The proud owner of a 1947 model Cessna 140 (and, later a Cessna 150), she flew these planes to the Lower 48 on numerous occasions. She flew several times in the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race ("Powder Puff Derby"). In later life she married a fellow school teacher, Ed Chamberlain, and they lived in California until his death in 1987. Thereafter, she drove her pickup to Fairbanks where she lived on her own, until she came to Nashville in 2007 to live with her son. Gracious and even-tempered, Pearl allowed no nonsense when it came to flying, but asserted that every hour spent in the air gave a person an extra day on earth. A life member of the 99's (the association of women pilots), she did not follow the cult of Amelia Earhart (ten years her senior) whom she met, but did not know personally. "She got lost," was Pearl's final assessment of "AE", whom she recognized as an important pathfinder in women's aviation. The wearing of slacks was Amelia's greatest contribution to women, insisted Pearl, who said it was just as easy to fly in a skirt as well. Pearl insisted that Jacqueline Cochran, a few years older than she, and Jerri Cobb, much younger, were the best women pilots of the era. In addition to her son, Pearl is survived by daughter-in-law, Nancy Laska and granddaughter, Jennava Laska of Los Angeles, CA. Condolences may be sent to 901 Church St., Nashville, TN 37203. At Pearl's request, no services will be held. Her family gratefully acknowledges the tender care offered by the staff of Richland Place and Alive Hospice. Special thanks go to Lorenda Patterson and Kathleen Harding for the personal care they offered Pearl in the last five years, as she lived in an apartment at her son's law office. Her family asks that any donations in her memory be made to the Baptist church of one's choice or the National W.A.S.P. Museum at P.O. Box 456, Sweetwater, TX 79556. WOODBINE FUNERAL HOME Directors, (615) 832-1948; Still Family Owned.
Published by The Tennessean on Dec. 2, 2012.
To plant trees in memory, please visit the Sympathy Store.
To offer your sympathy during this difficult time, you can now have memorial trees planted in a National Forest in memory of your loved one.
Funeral services provided by:
Woodbine Funeral Home
Add a Message

Not sure what to say?

7 Entries
Godspeed Lelia, and thank you for your service to this nation....
Harry Simpson
November 23, 2018
Dear Laska and Chamberlain families,

I have to write to express my condolences to your families and also to express my appreciation. My mother, Mary Ellen Ivey Williams, is from McGrath, Alaska and has told so many wonderful, kind, and vivid stories about Ms. Pearl, Mr. Laska, and Mr. Chamberlain. Each of them were so important in the fabric of my mother's world at that time. They really contributed to the quality of her life and made it better. You come from great people. What a life each lived!

Donna Driskill
Donna Driskill
August 22, 2013
Dear Lewis,
Your mom was a really great lady and was especially wonderful to know her for so much of my life. As I spent the first year of my life in Alaska with her, she kept me in line and was the kind of person I wanted to be. And I did end up being a teacher, as she was. Visited with her in CA, WV and TN. Loved her very much. Lelia Kay
Lelia Whipple
January 29, 2013
Mr. Laska, It was an extreme pleasure to meet and know your mother...an independent, self-motivated woman with great achievements, life-long learning and compassion for educating others.
Accordingly, her passion for love of life, a mission for educating herself and others, a positive attitude and loving son contributed to her long, successful life.
December 3, 2012
To live such a long and fulfilling life is truly a wonderful blessing....
I feel so honored to have known Pearl as a member of our local Midnight Sun 99's women pilot's group. She was such an inspiration and quite a delight as she shared stories of her life. I will always remember her as a role model and a very grand lady.
Yes, happy trails and blue skies to you, Pearl
Wynola Possenti
December 3, 2012
My mother was also a flight instructor in the Fairbanks area in 1943. She most recently met Lelia Pearl at a 'book signing' where these two ladies were two of a larger group of women of whom Sandi Summers (author of Alaska Women Fliers) wrote about. This book was released and the signing was in about 2005... My mother, Ginny Merrill, later known as Virginia Clayton, was also a 'ninety-nine' long ago. She too has taken her 'last flight'. So, these two ladies now have earned their 'wings' once more. Rest in peace.
Nancy Clayton
December 3, 2012
Lewis, I'm so sorry to hear about Pearl passing and send our deepest sympathy to you, Nancy and Jenny from all Pearl's flying female friends in Fairbanks. Even though we haven't met, I feel like we know you because she talked about her family so much. She was so proud of all of you. She always called herself a hillbilly, but we in Fairbanks saw her as a spunky, adventurous, optimistic, determined, inquisitive, and classy woman. What I personally appreciated most about her was that she never expected anything and was so appreciative of everything anyone did for her. We loved to listen to her flying stories. We celebrated her birthdays with her. We went to lunches, banquets, meetings, book signings, TV appearances, and movies together. Our pilot group made an Alaska airplane quilt for her 95th? Birthday which I know she treasured. She left us with many good memories. The best flight I took with her was in 2005 to McGrath when she wanted to visit her old home, school and your father's grave. She was so pleased to see that his grave was well taken care of and even had pretty plastic flowers on it. When she was written up in the book, Women Pilots of Alaska, she was right there with the rest of us signing autographs and enjoying her moment of fame. I'm so glad she lived long enough to receive a Master Pilot Certificate from the FAA for her 50 years of contributions to aviation then, in 2008, an Award of Achievement from the 99s Int'l Women Pilots honoring her lifetime of dedication and achievements in aviation. Lastly, the mayor of Fairbanks declared a Pearl Laska Chamberlain Day to honor her after her 98th birthday. Those awards meant the world to her and I'm so glad she lived long enough to enjoy all the appreciation and recognition she deserved. We are so lucky and honored to have known her. She has been an inspiration and role model for more women than she will ever know. We think of her often and, I know you will too. Losing a parent is always difficult, but I'm sure you have even more great memories of her, that will carry you through the days and months ahead. I know she was ready for this, her last flight, and I hope you will all take comfort in that. Blue skies to you, Pearl!
Phyllis Tate
December 3, 2012
Showing 1 - 7 of 7 results