Thousands upon thousands of passengers who stepped onto Northwest Airlines flights since the 1970s might have come into contact with Mollie Reiley. For more than three decades, she was one of the friendly flight attendants who welcomed them aboard.
To her co-workers, Reiley was also a fierce and determined union activist.
Maureen Elizabeth (Mollie) Reiley of Maple Plain died on Feb. 6 after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 62.
Reiley, who grew up in Minnetonka and attended the University of Iowa, decided on a whim to apply to the airline in the early 1970s, she told the Star Tribune in a 2002 story. She soon learned she was following a tradition: Her mother had worked as a stewardess for the company for 18 months starting in 1939, quitting when she got married because the job back then required that she stay single.
Mollie stayed on the job for 39 years, flying to destinations around the world and later leading and negotiating for union members. She retired in early 2011. Through the years, she served with the Teamsters Airline Division, Teamsters Local 2747 and Local 2000 and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
In 2006, during Northwest's bankruptcy, Reiley helped lead the effort to bring in the AFL-CIO-affiliated Association of Flight Attendants to represent her colleagues, replacing the union that had represented only Northwest attendants. For a brief time, she served as president of the Northwest Airlines AFA Master Executive Council. Later, she worked to try to bring union representation to Delta flight attendants after the companies merged.
"Her union activism is what kept her going. She was just dedicated like no one else to taking on those battles," said friend and co-activist Bruce Retrum. "She didn't sign up for something unless she intended to go full bore with it."
The 2002 Star Tribune story about Reiley described her taking the reins of Teamsters Local 2000 after she was appointed trustee by Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. Reiley said then that she never lost the joy of flight: "The sky never looks the same. It's like deep sea diving, having the ability to fly through meteor showers and see on one horizon the sun setting as the moon is rising," she told the newspaper.
Family members said she loved travel and interacting with people.
The cancer diagnosis was difficult on her and her family, sister Berta Freeman said, but Reiley powered through chemo treatments to prolong her life. "She'd laugh about her baldness," Freeman said. "She really tried to put a lighter side to all of it."
In addition to her sister Berta, Reiley is survived by a daughter, Eleanor Newman, and two other sisters, Caddy Grodahl and Julie Riley. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Wayzata Community Church, 125 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata.
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102