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Gone West: Barbara Twomey Phillips

Early New England Aviatrix Was 87

Family members say Barbara Twomey Phillips never made a big deal about the fact she had been a pilot. Perhaps today, that doesn't sound very impressive... until you realize that was in 1938, and she was one of only 750 women holding pilots licenses at that time.

"She was very modest, very soft-spoken," said her daughter, Suzanne Trosclair -- who hadn't known her mother had been one of the first female pilots in New England until she herself was an adult. "But she was a woman ahead of her time."

Phillips had been in declining health in recent months, and passed away October 11 at the age of 87.

The St. Petersburg (FL) Times reports Phillips grew up on Cape Cod, where her father worked as a train conductor. Family members say she knew John and Robert Kennedy.

When she was a teenager, Phillips came across a secret -- her brother was taking flying lessons without their parents' knowledge. In order to keep her quiet, her brother took her flying with him. She was immediately hooked; by the age of 19, she had earned her license.

That love of flying led her towards one of the only aviation professions available to women at the time -- being a stewardess. As stewardesses were required to have a nursing degree at the time, Phillips enrolled in a Boston nursing school.

"She just did it because she wanted to be a stewardess," Trosclair said. "But she discovered she really loved nursing."

Phillips was married shortly after she became a nurse. She started a family... and never piloted a plane again. In 1974, the marriage ended in divorce -- and Phillips raised her five children almost entirely by herself.

She later accepted a job as director of nurses at a Tampa, FL hospital... and settled into life near MacDill Air Force Base. Phillips worked as a nurse at several Tampa hospitals and doctor's offices until she was 70.

"She had a very strong work ethic," her daughter said. "She would work in the doctors' offices during the week, and then on weekends she would work at the hospital, and a lot of times she would work double shifts."

"She always said that she felt that God was walking with her down those hallways," Trosclair added.

While nursing appears to have been Barbara Twomey Phillips' true calling... her love of aviation is what led her there.

That is why, with sadness, we report that Barbara Twomey Phillips has gone west... where we imagine she is now catching up on her flying.

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