Monday, September 23, 2013

Lady Heath and the Cherokee "Princess"

Wauhillau LaHay in later years
One of the more interesting people Lady Heath bumped into during her five-week trip from New Jersey to Los Angeles in May 1929 was Wauhillau LaHay, dubbed “the Cherokee princess”. 
LaHay had started a career in journalism at the age of 15 and was learning how to fly for the Oklahoma Fair Air Tour.
LaHay's father Joseph LaHay was a prominent Cherokee born in 1864 at Boggy Depot, Indian Territory in Oklahoma. His family, like many other Cherokees, had taken refuge at this Confederate stronghold during the Civil War.

After the war, the LaHay family moved back to the Cherokee Nation, eventually settling near Claremore. LaHay studied law and became an attorney for the Cherokee Nation, often traveling to Washington. He represented his district as a senator in the Cherokee legislature and served a term as mayor of Claremore. It was here that he met and married Annie Russell, a woman of Scottish heritage.

In 1907, the LaHays, now with three daughters and a son,  moved to Muskogee where Joseph set up his law practice; only four years later, at the age of 43, he died of a heart attack. 
By the 1920s, Wauhillau was working for Oklahoma City Times newspaper and, with the USA gone aviation mad, came up with the idea of training for a pilot's license and reporting on her experiences. She became the "Times Flying Girl", and  on Monday May 13, was assigned to interview Lady Mary when she arrived in Oklahoma.  
LaHay went on to to enjoy a long and successful career in journalism, advertising copywriting  and PR (clients included Rin Tin Tin the dog). After two marriages and many adventures, she ended up as a well-known and much respected member of the Washington press corps and was elected first ever woman president of the Washington Press Club. 
While in Washington,  thsi woman of charm and wit became the confidante and regular bridge partner of Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B Johnson in the 1960s and was also friends with Betty Ford, wife of  President Gerard Ford. She lived to a good age after retiring to Colorado in the 1970s. 

LaHay's tombstone
Here is what she wrote  of her meeting with Lady Heath(edited): 

'Lady Mary Heath ARCScI, MRAeS,FRGS isn't half so formidable as she sounds,” she reported. 'Even if she is a famous aviatrix - and a famous athlete as well - she bounced on her first solo. That certainly made me feel better. I may fly an ocean yet!”

'I was intrigued by her flying costume - a leopard skin helmet, brown tweed sports suit and a leopard skin coat. Her boots were lengthy Russians affairs with little French heels. 

'Lady Heath is tall, much taller than the average and looks every inch an Irish lady of quality. Her speech is quick and delightful and she laughs often. 

'She carried a big box of candy in the luggage compartment of her plane and passed it around to everyone. All during luncheon, she drew pictures of model airplanes on the table cloth for Walter Beech, president of the Travelair company.

'Lady Mary asked me what I intended to do with my air work and I told her I had no plans. "Well my dear a woman's first duty is a family, and if that does not work out I should think she would naturally turn toward aviation! But family first of course."

'I asked her about flying the desert. "I did not fear the desert as I did the horrible swamps. These forests in murky swampy sections of Africa are terrifying. The desert is simple."

'Just to give you an insight on her ability with an aircraft: from her lizard skin belt (made by an African native) hangs a large knife given to her by friends. Do you think she uses that knife to open jars of cold cream, to pry stoppers out of perfume bottles? No sir. It has a special blade so that she can go through her engine herself. She knows every valve, cap, bolt and screw of the entire thing. 

'I did not feel the slightest restraint around her. She has that gracious faculty of putting one at one's ease. Sam Coffman got so enthusiastic over his plane he forgot all about sitting beside with a titled Englishwoman. Clint Johnson was so interested in hearing about the Cirrus engine, he was about to call her Mrs Heath."

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