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The Barnstormer and the Lady: Aviation Legends Walter and Olive Ann Beech
by Dennis Farney
Publisher: Rockhill Books
Address:

, Kansas City,, MO

Web Site:
Price:
 $29.95
Copyright:
 2010
Binding:  Hardbound Height:

 9.90

Width:

 8.40

Pages:  240 No. Photos:
 200 plus B&W photos
ISBN:
1935362690

This is the first biography of either Walter or Olive Ann Beech, two giants of 20th century aviation. Author Dennis Farney has effectively woven the results of his extensive research into a very interesting and enlightening story as he traces their lives from meager means to business leaders. Along the way, he does an excellent job of placing them in perspective with the history of Wichita, Kansas, and America.

Neither Walter nor Olive Ann gave many interviews that may have discouraged earlier attempts at telling their stories. With the full support of daughter Mary Lynn Oliver, the award winning former Wall Street Journal writer, Dennis Farney, had access to Olive Ann’s desk diaries, family letters, and the cooperation of family, friends and retired Beechcraft employees. The result is a story bound to interest a wide spectrum of readers from those interested in history, aviation, important American personalities, business, and of course the many Beechcrafters. I witnessed the powerful loyalty of the latter at a recent gathering of former Beech employees to honor Olive Ann in her birthplace of Waverly, Kan. Their respect and fondness for her clearly came through in the smiles seen and stories heard. They proudly showed off their Beech watches and Beech rings as they told of being personally presented with them by Olive Ann. The author effectively conveys these same feelings with stories from his numerous interviews with Beechcrafters.

The differences in personalities, as noted in the title, are clearly illustrated by the author. The “Lady” was the epitome of properness in dress, manner and expectations while the “Barnstormer” pushed his fiancée into a pool at her engagement party. He also taxied his airplane across the railroad tracks to stop the train that Olive Ann was traveling on in order to take her off. Olive Ann’s reaction was, “It was the most romantic thing that a person could do for me.”

A pet peeve of mine is non-fiction books that do not have an index and this falls into that category. The only factual error I found was that the Japanese had purchased Beech 18s before WWII and used them during the war. They did not have any Beech 18s but did license build and use 20 single-engine Beech Staggerwings. Mention was made of the Beech 18 being shown in the recent film “Letters from Iwo Jima” bringing the Japanese Commander Lt. General Kuribayashi to Iwo Jima. The film undoubtedly used a Beech 18 because the actual Japanese aircraft was not available.

These are very minor points compared to the high quality of the writing, very interesting narrative and fine selection of quality photos. I highly recommend the book not only to the readers mentioned earlier but as inspirational reading for young men and women. Two small town kids from poor families who succeeded through skill, courage and determination. Imagine starting a new airplane company offering an expensive model in the heart of the Great Depression. Imagine being a woman running a multi-million dollar aircraft company during wartime, while your husband was months in the hospital in a coma. Then running Beech for 30 years after his death, the only woman to have that kind of leadership history in the U.S. This is their story and I am so glad it is finally being told and so well told at that.

Robert Parmerter

 

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