Mavis Hoare “Pocket sized Blonde”

Mavis Hoare was born outside of Johannesburg in South Africa in 1927, she has just celebrated her 88th Birthday and has lived a life most of us only dream about.

Mavis on her 88th Birthday (Photo by Rebecca Hoare)

She was the only child of Hylda Dawson Winn and Cecil Earnest Winn and she caused trouble for her parents from the start.

“When my mother was pregnant with me, she was rushed into hospital with enteric fever! Which was so contagious that the entire hospital had to be quarantined” she says giggling to herself at the memory. This was just the start of the stress she would bring to her adoring parents.

Growing up in South Africa as a small child she dreamed of flying “I used to watch the planes as they landed on the Tarmac on the airstrips in Africa. I dreamed about someday being a pilot and someday having the freedom to go anywhere”.

Both Mavis’s Mother and Aunt we extremely talented piano teachers and they had high expectations of her. When she was 5 years old she sat an entrance exam to music. the test usually takes 3 hours to complete but she left after the first 30 minutes “My mother throttled me when she got my results… she couldn't believe I had only gotten 95%”.

As a teenager she rebelled against the pressures of music and although she was exceptionally talented she swore she would never play again. “It’s one of my biggest regrets, I was always too stubborn for my own good”.

As a 17 year old she worked up the courage to tell her parents about her dream of flying but they were protective of their only child. Flying was dangerous especially for a girl, for a while she put her dream aside and got qualified as a shorthand typing teacher.

But working as a typing teacher wasn't enough for her however and she still dreamed about flying. She got her chance when the local flying club, Durban wings announced they were giving away one scholarship to a lucky applicant.

Image from http://www.wingsclub.co.za/

Mavis knew this was her chance so she went to her father and told him about her plan to apply for the scholarship. Her father begrudgingly agreed thinking there was no way she could win over all the other people applying, there was however a catch. He told her that if she won the scholarship he would let her take it and study flying but if she didn't, this would have to be the end of the fantasy.

“I remember being so excited I found a small book, teach yourself how to fly… it cost me what would be two dollars now and I read it religiously” When the day of the test came she went up in the sky with the instructor, they wanted to see how the applicants would react once they were in the air. The wind was roaring and she was asked to take the wheel and keep the plane straight. “It was terrifying… in that amazing exciting way” She credits her ability that first flight to that small book she had read cover to cover. “We were up there in the sky and it was mesmerising sitting in the cockpit of this little plane”

“it was all going so well when he suddenly put the plane into a spin, we were nose diving strait toward the ground, I was so scared and then I thought, He’s not going to crash this plane and kill himself! And suddenly the fear was gone so I turned and looked at him and gave him this huge smile”. She was chosen for the scholarship and her father honoured his deal and didn't oppose her, but still against her to putting herself at risk, he refused to pay for the hours it would take for her to receive her commercial licence.

After completing the private pilot’s licence through the scholarship “I took up a job working at the airport and they would pay me with flying hours”. She needed 200 hours in the air of single flying before she could become a commercial pilot.

She did get them however and went on to be the first female commercial pilot in Natal in 1951.

Mavis Hoare 1951

“There were times when I would go and practice with the men at the air force base” she had a friend there who would let her use the flight stimulator when no one else was using it.

I was supposed to be there in secret and the general in charge caught me, he dragged me out in from of all the men.

I thought I was going to be in so much trouble, but instead he yelled at all the men and asked them why it was that this pocket sized blonde was able to beat all their scores in the simmulator?”

From then onwards she was allowed to use the simulator in the open and didn't have to hide it,the nickname stuck.

It was this qualification that lead to Mavis getting a job working for Aristotle Onassis, at the time he was one of the richest men in the world and he hired her to be a flight attendant on his private jet.

It was the job of a lifetime and Mavis boasts that it took her to every continent in the world and had her rubbing shoulders with royalty.

Though she’s now happily retired she recently had a brush with her past when a plane she flew in 1948 was flown into the small town of Denmark Western Australia. A friend who was visiting her was flying the plane but neither knew that it was the same she had flown 65 years ago until curiosity lead them to look at the log book and there her name was.