Ruth Martin Jefford, Alaska’s first female commercial air taxi pilot, died on Jan. 9. Cause of death was not released. She was 92.
The Iowa native began flying when she was only 17 years old. She made her first solo flight in 1937, then married her flight instructor Jim Hurst. The couple moved to Anchorage, Alaska, in 1941 so Hurst could work for the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the predecessor of the Federal Aviation Administration. During World War II, Jefford volunteered with the Red Cross Motor Corps, helping to cover all the lights in Anchorage to avoid bombing raids by the enemy.
Jefford spent the next 60 years in the air. She was the first woman licensed to teach students at Merrill Field in Anchorage, and the first female commercial air taxi pilot in the state. Jefford was a charter member of the Alaska chapter of the Ninety-Nines (International Organization of Women Pilots), and started the International Air Taxi Service at Anchorage International Airport.
For more than two decades, she delivered mail and supplies each week to the tiny community of Skwentna, Alaska. Jefford made the 140-mile trip in her Cessna 206, and took on charter and personal flights in between each visit. She and Hurst divorced in the early 1960s. Ruth remarried a decade later, this time to Jack Jefford, the chief pilot for the FAA in Alaska. Together they opened Valley Air Transport. Jack died in 1979.
With over 10,000 hours of flying time, Jefford made her last solo flight in 1996. Ten years later, she received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, an honor created by the FAA to honor pilots who have flown safely for at least 50 years.
Jefford’s other passion was music. A violinist since the age of 9, she attended The Chicago Conservatory of Music and studied with teachers in New York and Paris. She co-founded the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra in 1946, and served as its concertmaster for nearly 30 years. In her spare time, Jefford enjoyed sailing her boat, the Arjay, and riding motorcycles.