On the day Mary Becker Griffiths was born in 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean. The coincidence would prove prophetic, for Griffiths grew up to become a pilot and nurture an enduring passion for aviation.
A long life of flying, adventure and international travel came to an end Dec. 5, when Griffiths died at age 88 after years of battling Alzheimer’s disease.
Griffiths was born in St. Paul on May 20, 1927, and always knew the historical significance of her birthday, which “probably put a little wind in her sails,” said her daughter, Annie Griffiths of Reston, Va.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota, where she majored in English, she met and married another U alum, Robert Griffiths, who rekindled her dream of flying. He had loved flying model airplanes.
Mary Griffiths applied for a position as a flight attendant but was rejected because she wore glasses — a safety issue because of turbulence on aircrafts. It didn’t slow her down: Griffiths instead earned a pilot’s license during an era with few female pilots.
“She was disappointed, and she laughed, but then she became a pilot,” said Annie Griffiths. “She had a gracious way of going around a problem, and wherever she could, she’d run with an opportunity.”
She was a Realtor for a few years, loved skiing and spending time in her family’s Wisconsin cabin and, of course, piloting. She would hop in a plane a few times a month until she got sick, her daughter said.
Although Griffiths and her husband owned airplanes together, it was Mary who pursued aviation beyond her husband in terms of licenses and accomplishments, said her son David Griffiths, of Bloomington.
She obtained her instrument rating and took her first solo flight in 1969. She flew in the last Powder Puff Derby, an all-female flight from Palm Springs, Calif., to Tampa, Fla. She would even transport items for organizations, including blood for the Red Cross, her daughter said.
“I sometimes wonder about the things my mom would have done if she’d been born a generation later,” she said. “She had so much deep and profound curiosity about everyone and everything.”
The Griffithses raised their family in Minneapolis, and their eldest son, David, went on to fly in the Air Force and serve as a pilot for Northwest Airlines.
Griffiths loved flying because of the sense of freedom, her daughter said. It’s also why she loved driving and traveling. On a trip to Israel in the late 1990s, Griffiths became fascinated by women making traditional bread and tried to learn to do it herself. In 2004, she traveled with Annie to South Africa and Zambia. It was there that an elephant charged at her vehicle, ears flapping, but eventually stopped. Griffiths “didn’t even bat an eye,” her daughter said.
“She said, ‘I think we upset her,’ ” Annie Griffiths recalled.
Griffiths was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2004 and had to quit flying. Her husband died in May.
For all her love of adventure, Griffiths loved her family too, her son said. He knew he could expect a fresh chocolate chip cookie and a glass of milk waiting for him at the end of a school day, and his mom was the only person he’s ever known who ironed underwear.
She was an open-minded woman in a relatively conservative generation and brought grace to every situation, said her son Bobby Griffiths, of Minneapolis.
“I don’t know anybody who knew her well that didn’t think she wasn’t one of the greatest people they ever knew,” he said.
In addition to David, Annie and Bobby, Mary Becker Griffiths is survived by daughter Sally Anderson of Kansas City, Mo., and 10 grandchildren. Services have been held.