Marcella Walsh read “Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines” when she was 9 years old and decided she, too, wanted to be a stewardess.
The pay was just $155 a month, but the opportunity to travel all around the world enticed her. She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1945 with a nursing degree, a requirement of stewardesses at the time, and began her lifelong pursuit of adventure and travel as a Northwest Airlines flight attendant.
Walsh died Dec. 8 at the age of 90 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Walsh was born in Minneapolis on June 7, 1925, and attended Marshall High School.
Having made the decision early to become a stewardess, Walsh understood she needed to have certain attributes: thin, no taller than 5 feet 4 inches, and single.
The requirements sound antiquated today, but her son, Jim Walsh, said the job captivated her.
“It was such a glamorous profession,” he said.
Her skills as a nurse were instrumental in helping attend to customers who fell ill from motion sickness, low cabin pressure or other flying ailments.
When Northwest Airlines began flying to Japan, Walsh was one of the first stewardesses on the plane, her son said.
But Walsh’s favorite destination was New York City. It fueled her passion for jazz and blues. Walsh grew up listening to boogie woogie and Dixieland jazz. When she visited New York, she took the A train to clubs in Harlem.
“A lot of the stewardesses didn’t want to go to Harlem in the ’40s at night. She didn’t care,” said Martha Sandberg, Walsh’s niece.
According to her family, Walsh was instrumental in establishing the Northwest Airlines Stewardess Association in Minnesota, a union for flight attendants.
“They had to convince the pilots to support their union,” Jim Walsh said.
On March 7, 1950, Walsh was supposed to work on Flight 307 from Madison, Wis., to Minneapolis, but her son said she traded her schedule with a co-worker who wanted to visit her boyfriend. That plan crashed when it hit a flagpole in south Minneapolis and everyone on board died.
Walsh was a stewardess on Northwest planes until 1951 when she married Eddie Walsh, an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Back then, stewardesses were not allowed to keep their jobs if they married.
Sandberg, Walsh’s niece, said her aunt used to say that Mondays were called “move up days” because women would often get engaged on the weekends, quit on Monday and the other women would move up in seniority. But Walsh didn’t mind leaving her high-flying career behind.
“I don’t recall her being angry in any way,” her son said. “She was happy being a mom and an officer’s wife.”
Her world travels continued as she followed her husband, who was stationed abroad during the Cold War. Sandberg said Walsh focused on her role as an officer’s wife, entertaining and cooking for generals.
Her husband died when Walsh was just 48, and she moved the family back to Minneapolis.
Jim Walsh said his mom became “a night owl” and stayed up listening to jazz shows, including “The Jazz Image” with Leigh Kamman on Minnesota Public Radio.
If Kamman or other hosts made a mistake when talking about the history of a record or artist, Walsh would call to correct them.
“After she proved herself to those radio guys, they really respected her,” Jim Walsh said.
Marcella Walsh is survived by her children Diana Walsh, Jim Walsh, and Peggy Whitney, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.