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Margaret Thomas Warren, was aviation pioneer; at 92

Margaret Thomas Warren fell in love with flying when she was 8 years old and growing up in Texas. She took her first flying lesson at 14, had her full pilot's license at 17 and became possibly the youngest charter member of the Ninety-Nines, the group of women pilots founded by Amelia Earhart in 1929.

Mrs. Warren wrote about her love for flying in her autobiographical book "Taking Off," published in Britain in 1993. "It was spring, and I was in my first grade schoolroom when I first saw an aeroplane," she wrote. "I looked out and saw something in the air, something with wings like an enormous dragonfly. I jumped up and ran out of the schoolhouse and followed the thing flying in the air until it sank from sight toward the earth. . . . I thought that somehow when I learned to fly, I would find my own freedom."

In her 20s, Mrs. Warren stopped flying because she didn't pass the physical exam. She did not return to flying until she was 84, and easily passed the exam. She died on Aug. 22 at age 92 in County Cork, Ireland, of congestive heart failure. She formerly lived in Pride's Crossing on the North Shore.

From the archives of the Ninety-Nines in Oklahoma City, a letter Mrs. Warren wrote to a fellow member there in 1996, explains why she started taking flying lessons again in her 80s. "Although I am very fit I was still a bit surprised to pass the physical!" she wrote. "I fly out of Cork airport in a Cessna. Very different now but fascinating. Lots to learn, book learning, that is. The laws of aerodynamics are still the same, it seems. I just want to prove (to myself, that is), that I'm the same person at 84 years as I was at 16."

Known as "Tommy," Mrs. Warren moved 25 years ago from Pride's Crossing with her husband, Bayard, to live in Castletownshend, County Cork, where she became a "legendary arts patron," as the Cork Examiner headlined her death. There, in a warehouse her husband had restored, they opened the Boathouse, a waterside art gallery for the work of Irish artists and the venue for theatrical events performed by the Gare St. Lazare Players. Mr. Warren died in 1986.

Mrs. Warren continued with the Boathouse and hosting arts festivals until her failing eyesight forced her last year to scale back and she gave the Boathouse to the village's rowing club. The landlord of a local pub came to the rescue and provided quarters for the gallery upstairs. He named it the Warren Gallery in her honor. One of its first exhibits was a collection of works Mrs. Warren had painted several years ago as her vision was beginning to fail.

In the annals of flying, Mrs. Warren was a pioneer at a time when women were not considered fit to fly planes, in spite of Amelia Earhart's feats. Those who did fly were compelled to wear dresses, rather than warmer, comfortable trousers that were considered unladylike. Mrs. Warren's daughter, Mary A. of Pride's Crossing, recalls her mother telling her that it was so cold in the plane's cockpit in a dress that she had to borrow trousers and jackets from the airplane mechanics.

The adventurous young women who became pilots in those days were an integral part of what became known as the Golden Age of aviation and whatever they were wearing, they did everything a man did in a plane, and more. Mrs. Warren, for example, did stunt flying for shows, delivered the mail and took part in air races. She flew all kinds of small planes available at the time, biplanes to a borrowed autogiro.

According to the archives of the Ninety-Nines in Oklahoma City, Mrs. Warren got her private pilot's license in an OX-5 Traveler. She then worked at Curtiss-Wright, first at Love Field in Texas, as a demonstration pilot. Later that year, Mrs. Warren went to New York's Roosevelt Field and by early 1930, had joined the Curtiss-Wright Exhibition Co. as part of its stunt team. "There she did formational stunting with Red Jackson and Freddie Lund, whom she said were so good, they could get out of her way," according to the Ninety-Nines.

In her flying days, Mrs. Warren had some close calls, but was never injured in a plane crash, her daughter said. She made her first solo flight in 1929 at a flying school at Meacham Field in Fort Worth, Texas. "The next big event," she wrote, "was the first cross-country flight. In my excitement to be off, I listened to none of [her instructor] Andy's admonitions or dire warnings. . . . After lunch I took off, heading west for home . . . sang a song my father had sung to me . . . did some lazy wing-overs in time with the tune."

In her euphoria, young Margaret got lost and had to fly "on and on" looking for familiar landmarks "until the needle on the gasoline gauge read empty. The engine spluttered and died and the wall of sound became a wall of silence." She crash-landed successfully in a pasture and a farmer came to her rescue. Andy laconically said, "Well, so you got back!"

Mrs. Warren took part in many air races. In one of them, her daughter said, she was given the prize of an acre of land in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "Ma sold it because she needed the money," Mary said. "Had she waited longer, it would have brought more money because it became part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport."

Mrs. Warren was born in Anson, West Texas, a redhead with blue eyes, the oldest of three children. She was 10 when her mother died after requesting Margaret to look after the family once she was gone. With an ailing father and a mentally retarded brother, this was hard duty for a child, Mary said, and, the children were sent to live with relatives. Margaret got through school and into flying school and went to work in airplane factories.

She met Bayard Warren of Massachusetts while working in one of them in the New York area. When they married in 1935 in Armonk, N.Y., she wrote in her book, it was a matter of "a Boston Brahmin marrying a Texas maverick." At the beginning of the World War II, while her husband was with the Marine Air Corps in the Pacific, Mrs. Warren wanted to renew her license to help in the war effort but failed her physical. "I did the next best thing and became an airplane inspector for the US Air Corps," she wrote.

After the war, the Warrens bought a farm in Texas but, Mary said, because there was a drought and her husband always wanted to get back to boats and sailing, they returned to Massachusetts in 1956. They lived first in Mattapoisett and then in Boston, where Mrs. Warren was active in hospice work and the Good Samaritans movement. The family moved to Pride's Crossing in 1972.

A decade ago, referring to her book on a Ninety-Nines website, Mrs. Warren explained what attracted her to flight in the first place. "In those days," she wrote, "I valued freedom and courage above all else. Now, I know better. In our world there is little freedom and, instead of dare-devil courage, we need endurance. . . . Then, flying represented a wish to transcend and overcome difficulties and, on the other hand, a longing to soar towards the celestial, to break the bonds of earth."

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Warren leaves a son, Michael T. of Newcastle, Maine; and a granddaughter.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 2 in St. John's Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms. 

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