Celebrities of the aviation world have posted their thoughts on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, about the death last week of Mary Wilkins Ellis.
Tributes have been coming in to this website, which had the privilege to host Mary’s page, from ‘ordinary’ people who greatly admired Mary. (Is there ever such a thing as ‘ordinary’ people?) Below are some of the tributes.
Statement issued 28 July 2018 from Wight Aviation Museum.
The Museum was extremely saddened to hear the news of the death of Mary Ellis at the age of 101. The Chair of the Museum, John Kenyon, wished to express the deep condolences of all its members to Mary’s family and friends at this sad time.
“I have known Mary for a number of years now and she will be remembered locally as a heroine who helped to establish the role of aviatrix pilots at a critical time for the nation. Without the Air Transport Auxiliary’s (ATA) wartime efforts the RAF would not have had enough aircraft to put into the sky to counter the war in the Air. Mary was an extraordinary lady and her legacy as a World War II pilot and her pivotal role at Sandown Airport, were key inspirations for the creation of the Wight Aviation Museum. It’s aim is to celebrate the considerable history in aircraft design & production on the Isle of Wight, as well as those individuals on the Island who have made an outstanding contribution to aviation, of which Mary was certainly one. We had been working with Mary and her associates to bring her story to our new museum and we hope our Mary Ellis exhibit will be a fitting tribute to this truly inspirational lady. In 2017 she celebrated her 100th Birthday with a flight from Sandown in her favourite aircraft, the Spitfire, becoming the oldest person to do so. More recently, Mary was awarded the Freedom of the Isle of Wight and, presenting the award the Leader of the Council exalted Mary as a ‘national, international and Island heroine’.”
To read the full tribute to Mary go to the Wight Aviation Museum website.
As an example of just how international was Mary’s standing in the aviation world, one of the very few female fighter pilots in the Italian Air Force, has been a fan of Mary Ellis for a while. Captain Sara Frizzera has sent this tribute:
“RIP Mary Ellis, a pioneer among female aviators, a symbol of gender equality. Cieli blu.”
Sara’s husband, Captain Giorgio Catone, had been trying to arrange a secret surprise visit to the Isle of Wight for Sara so that she could meet Mary Ellis at Sandown Airport. Mary knew of this, as Solent Aviatrix had been trying to help Giorgio, by liaising with Mary.
Sara has said that she would like to attend any memorial service planned for Mary on the Island next year.
The Isle of Wight Council leader Dave Stewart is on record as saying, “I’ve asked council officers to look at appropriate ways in which we can further recognise Mary’s remarkable life.”
Another tribute that has come in is from Philip Sewell. Philip is typical of many of Mary’s fans who wanted to express their admiration to her. Philip said in March this year, “I’m not RAF, simply a life-long fan of matters aviation, UK in particular — although I did have an uncle who flew Halifax aircraft and was KIA in Norway (1942 – Special Operations). I went to university in Norfolk where so many old RAF/USAAF airbases still dot the landscape; a visual reminder of the scale of the aerial conflict in WW2. I first came across Mary on the television when the ‘Spitfire Women’ programme was first broadcast (around 2010). I was absolutely hooked on the story of the ATA and how they coped with flying so many different types of aircraft, often with nothing more than an evening’s perusal of the relevant Pilot’s Notes. Before then my knowledge was limited to a vague idea of their activities and the fact that Amy Johnson was a member. Since then, thankfully, much more of the ATA story has come to the public’s attention, resulting in some very belated recognition and appreciation. This is a chance for an ordinary “civvy” to simply express gratitude and admiration for a damn fine job!”
Philip’s message was relayed on to Mary this spring.
On Wednesday of last week when the news broke of Mary’s passing, Philip once again got in touch, “I’ve heard the sad news via one of the Facebook aircraft groups that Mary left us on her final patrol this morning…no doubt she is opening the throttle in order to catch up with Tom Neill and Geoffrey Wellum, in order to form an evening patrol of three Spitfires…. Condolences to all of her family and friends.
Dan Llywelyn Hall is a portrait artist who contacted Mary via this website. In February Dan wanted to paint Mary’s portrait. He also extended an invitation for Mary to attend a special fund raising RAF100 dinner at the RAF Club Piccadilly on 7 September.
Dan said, “The event will have ten tables each with a pilot from the particular aircraft. It will be something of a momentous occasion.”
Then on Thursday last week Dan got in touch again, “Sincere condolences for the nation’s loss of Mary Ellis today. I’m sorry to hear the news. What a most remarkable lady.
Last year Kaitlin, the grand daughter of ATA Spitfire Girl Mrs. Yvonne MacDonald found Mary’s page on this website. Kaitlin, who is in America, wanted to communicate with Mrs. Ellis to ask about her Great Aunt Joy Lofthouse. Joy and Yvonne were the only real ‘Sisters In Spitfires’. Kaitlin was put in touch with Mary.
Pilot Rod Hall-Jones in New Zealand, saw the sad news about Mary. Rod said, “Mary’s interesting life and her death was on our television news and in the newspaper, what a lady.”
Such has been the world wide coverage of Mary’s passing.
Three years ago the makers of the documentary ‘Secret Spitfires’, now on general release in cinemas throughout the UK, found Mary’s web page here and asked to contact her. They visited Mary at her home and filmed her for inclusion in this fascinating film. It also features the late Joy Lofthouse and Stella Rutter.
Ten years ago Mary said to me, “All this interest and attention has come too late in life.”
Well, if that was so Mrs. Ellis, you certainly packed in a lot of late life experiences in the intervening decade until now. It must have helped to make up for all the preceding sixty years when it seemed that few people of the generations below you had any interest in or respect for what you and everyone else did in the ATA. We salute you all.
The same applies to everyone, who ‘did their bit’, in all the armed forces and in ‘civvie’ street – overlooked, forgotten and seemingly irrelevant to far too many people in today’s complacent, soft living 21st Century.