Martha Ann Alexander, A National Airlines Legend
quiet life ended quietly on Feb. 16th. A friend, mentor and mother-figure
with no children of her own, passed away leaving a hole in the lives
of over 3,400 women and men, the flight attendants of National Airlines.
We mourn the loss of Martha Ann Alexander, who, for 16 years (1958 -
1974) trained all of National's flight attendants.
Martha was born August 22, 1924 in Hope, Arkansas,
attended a number of universities including LSU in Baton Rouge and the
University of Miami. She joined National Airlines as a stewardess in
January of 1949. She retired in 1980. Her uniform is in the Smithsonian
Air and Space Museum. She never married, never had children of her own.
She told us that she regretted this, to which someone responded: "…but
you do have a family a huge family, a family of friends, daughters,
sons, sisters, and brothers, the largest most loving family of any woman
I know." Still I wonder if that's not the reason she adopted all
of us. Young people who are now getting old ourselves. Kids who thought,
as I suppose Martha once did, that we had landed an exciting job to
tide us over till we married. Jobs that became careers, and a sisterhood
that survives in part because she taught us how to treat others fairly
and with respect and to treat the job of flying like a career, which
in the end, for many of us, was, and for some still is.
What was it about Martha, a woman whose tutelage we
were under for a short 4 weeks, that earned the undying love, respect
and admiration of thousands of young people? Before "wage random
acts of kindness" became a bumper sticker, it was her creed. She
saw someone in pain, frightened, lonesome, insecure, or homesick, she
soothed, encouraged, comforted, and befriended. While she taught us
evacuation and safety procedures, meal and beverage services, by example
she taught us to be brave, honorable, trustworthy, and kind. A tiny
woman with a huge sense of humor, she lead us the doorway of adulthood,
and handed us a key. Though we came out of training looking as if we'd
been stamped out of a mold, bobbed brown hair, girdled and high-heeled,
we stayed unique in Martha's eyes. She kept tabs with us, encouraged
our efforts to become not just the best we could be flying but to best
we could be as human beings.
For many of us, Martha's passing puts the final stake
in the heart of the charm, glamour and rewards of air travel. Her protégés
flew in an era when passengers were valued customers and treated as
such, when service was top-notch and something we took pride in, when
passenger safety was a primary concern and when, with the exception
of an occasional unscheduled trip to Havana, was safe.
Martha gave me three gifts in the 37 years I knew her:
her National Airlines wings from 1949 which she gave to me when I retired
from flying in 1989, a small book, archyology, by Don Marquis, when
my own novel was published, and her greatest gift, a stick up my spine.
She told me, in April 1966, when I was in "stewardess" training,
that I was special. Looking back, I suspect she told each and every
one of us that, not because it was part of a lesson plan but because
to her, each of us was special. She found our individual sparks and
she fanned them.
I wore her wings to write this and I read passages
in archyology looking for one that would that sum her up. Perhaps Martha's
secret was there in the stories of Archy and Mehitabel, his alley-cat
friend. Archy, a lowly cockroach, claimed to be a long departed poet
whose soul had been transformed into that of an insect. His stories
are full of insight, like Martha, and they make you smile, as did Martha,
and they make you think. I believe she shared Archy's view of the world:
"…the only way to live with it is to laugh at it." But
Martha one-upped Archy, she made the world better off for her time here.
She passed on the gift of herself to thousands of people who, in their
own ways, have passed it on again. There was no single quote to sum
her up. I knew that when I started looking. There are only the memories
each of us have of her, our treasured mementos, and those not so random
acts of kindness that changed so many lives and made us better human
This tribute to Martha Alexander was written by Ginny
Rorby Oesterle on behalf of Martha's National family, The National Sundowners
A brother, Taylor Alexander, Miami, FL, and several
nieces and nephews survive Martha. A graveside service for the burial
of her ashes will be held Saturday, March 15th at the Rose Hill Cemetery
in Hope, Arkansas.