1/18/1915 to 4/24/2010
Lois Brooks Hailey, 95, passed away April 24, 2010 at her son’s home in Friendswood, Texas. She was born on January 18, 1915, in the house where she would grow up in Reno, Nevada, to Charles W. Brooks and Harriet Peckham Brooks. Lois was preceded in death by her brother Ernest Brooks and four sisters; Ethel Gadda, Myrtle Sanford, Carol Lyons, and Louise Marsh.
As a tomboy and free spirit Lois learned early in life that she could be whatever she wanted to be. Lois attended Reno High School and then the University of Nevada, Reno where she received a bachelor’s degree in Education with a minor in Spanish. During her senior year, she took care of her ailing mother, who was stricken with cancer. She did not know it at the time, but cancer would come into her life again and again.
After graduation in 1936 from U of N, Lois took a teaching job in Minden, NV, south of Reno. She organized and directed the school band and gave private music lessons to interested students. She was also taught photography. Her plan was to save enough money to fulfill her dream of attending Julliard’s School of Music.
All was going as planned until June 7, 1939, when Jim Peckham, a cousin, convinced her to join him and learn to fly. She immediately fell in love with flying. On December 3, 1939, Lois flew her first solo flight and by April 17, 1940, she had her private license.
On December 1, 1940, Lois, Jim and Vic Spezia pooled their funds and bought a single engine Taylorcraft airplane. Since they were sharing the plane they divided up the time so that Jim and Vic got the plane during the week and Lois got it on weekends. Lois loved soaring over the Sierra Nevada mountains and taking photos.
Just as WWII was starting Lois bought out her flying partners. While still fulfilling her teaching duties, she kept flying by doing spot landings, cross-country, chandelles, eights, spins, and stalls. Finally, on July 11, 1941, with over 300 hours, she passed her commercial license test and became the first female pilot in the state of Nevada to do so.
As the war progressed, flying became restricted and fuel was rationed. She was grounded and on August 29, 1942; with just over 500 hours of flying time, she sold her Taylorcraft to a training school so it could be put to better use.
That didn’t keep her from flying though. In September of that year, her brother Ernest had started an unsuccessful run for Congress and she borrowed a plane to fly him around northern Nevada to campaign.
Because Lois had over 500 flying hours, she received an invitation to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). She declined but then received a telegram from Jacqueline Cochran to meet her for an interview in San Francisco to join the Women’s Ferrying Training Detachment (WFTD). Both groups were part of the Army at the time.
Lois was interested in meeting Jacqueline, but not in joining the Army. So, she and a friend; who also got an invitation to join the WFTD, went to see what it was all about. Lois told them she wasn’t interested in joining and asked about meeting Jacqueline. They told her that Jacqueline was not there but she should take the physical just to see if she could pass. Well she passed and ended up joining. She joined the third WFTD class and started training on January 15, 1943.
After training for twelve months, including 6 months for tow target, she took on her next teaching job. While in the Sixth Tow Target squadron at Biggs Army Air Field in El Paso, Texas, she assisted in the training of Army personnel by towing a target behind her plane so that the men could learn how to use machine guns and larger artillery to hit moving targets. She also flew at night so they could learn how to use search lights and strafed infantry with tear gas.
In December of 1944, the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots – a merging of the WAFS and WFTD) were disbanded and all records were classified. The jobs they were performing were now going back to the men who were returning home.
As the end of the WASP drew near, Lois and her best WASP friend Holly, started training to get their civilian instructor licenses in El Paso. When they left the WASP, they joined Border Flying Service and started teaching GIs how to fly civilian aircraft.
By this time, Lois had accumulated over 1,300 flying hours. For the next five years she and Holly supported themselves as flight instructors. They even pooled their earnings to buy a house.
In 1946, she also became the first chairperson of the El Paso Chapter of the 99s, the International Organization of Women Pilots. In March of 1947, she soloed Sam Hailey, her husband to be and in June of that same year, she soloed her father at age 65. At this point, Lois had over 3,000 hours flying. During this time, she also wrote a column, “El Paso Air Lanes” for the El Paso Times newspaper.
Lois married Sam Hailey in 1947. In April of 1948, they became the proud parents of Charles Andrew Hailey. Their marriage didn’t last and they divorced when Andrew was two. She never remarried and raised her son alone.
In the fall of 1949, she gave up teaching flying and went back to teaching band and orchestra with the El Paso Independent School District. Lois’ teaching career in El Paso spanned 31 years and during this time she earned a Masters degree in Education with a minor in Music from Texas Western College (which is now the University of Texas of El Paso) in 1953.
She typically taught at three different schools each day for a given school year and provided instruction at more than 10 different schools. At Austin High School, she taught a course in aeronautics, but most classes were band or orchestra. During that time she continued to fly, but by 1978, she had only added about 600 hours to her pilot log.
In 1980, three years after the WASP were finally recognized as veterans by an act passed by the Congress, she retired from teaching. During retirement, she continued to support flying through membership in the 99s and volunteering at the War Eagles Museum near El Paso. She also attended WASP reunions until they disbanded in 2008. She also traveled to other activities honoring the WASP.
Lois was inducted into the El Paso Aviation Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame in 2004. On the May 23, 2005, Lois was honored by the El Paso County Commissioners Court for her WASP service, her services to El Paso ISD, and becoming the first chairperson of the El Paso chapter of the 99s. On March 10 of this year, she, and her fellow WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, DC for their service to the country during WWII.
Lois is survived by her son, Charles “Andy” Hailey, his wife Mary and granddaughter Dawn of Friendswood, TX and her stepbrother George Peckham of Fort Myers, Florida.