by Rich Williams & Marleen Williams
Lesley Jackson Stroud Williams was born April 18, 1918 in Ocala, Florida. She was a descendant of William Strothers Jr. (1630-1702) whose direct descendants include General George S. Patton and U.S. Presidents John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Jimmy Carter. Lesley grew up in Jacksonville and after graduating high school in 1936, went to work for Southern Bell. She had been saving money with plans to attend the 1939-40 New York World's Fair but when her supervisor wouldn't give her the time off, she decided to take flying lessons at Laurie Yonge's Flying Service at Hart Field in Jacksonville. There she met and began dating Norman "Pete" Williams. Sometimes they combined dates with their solo flying hours, often landing on the beach, having a picnic and swimming, then each getting back in their own plane to fly back.
Lesley soloed on July 17, 1940 (before Pete) and subsequently obtained her private pilot license (also before Pete). I found a CAA fingerprint card for private pilot license for her dated May 19, 1941. She was also a member of the Jacksonville unit of Women's National Aeronautical Association.
In 1942, Lesley obtained her commercial pilot's license, and married Pete on December 12. At that time, Pete was an Army Air Corps cadet. He was soon sent to the European theater, flying Martin B-26's.
In January 1944, Lesley was accepted into the WASP program and traveled to Sweetwater Texas, possibly the first time she had been out of the state of Florida. She graduated with class 44-W-6 on August 4, 1944, with a CAA license for commercial airplane, single/multi engine land with Instrument rating.
Heading off to Texas by herself in 1944 reflected an independence that carried on. As the wife of a career Air Force pilot, she often had to travel alone or with small children, to foreign countries, because dad had gone on ahead with orders. She did not speak the languages of the countries, but I remember her getting on a travel train to another town to visit a friend or to shop. There was no hesitation -- she really seemed to enjoy it. And she always treated LIFE as an adventure, something to be explored and enjoyed. It was her spirit!
Lesley knew Pete would be coming home via the East coast so she requested an East coast base. She was assigned to Shaw Army Air Base, South Carolina, where she ferried planes all over the country. Usually, the ladies delivered a plane then caught the next transport to their home base but mom said often when she got to her destination she would be given another plane to deliver somewhere else. This might happen three or four times, turning a one-day trip into four before returning to Shaw.
After the war, Pete left the Army Air Corps for a few years, but was recalled into the Air Force and made it a career. Traveling around the world and having 3 children, left little opportunities for private flying and Lesley gradually stopped flying after 1954. She remained an adventurous and independent lady until her illness and death in 1997 at the age of 79.
My Mother was very smart and extremely humorous, she was fashionable yet thrifty, she was very, very compassionate and loving. None of us can choose our parents when we come into this world, but my sisters and I were extremely lucky to have the ones we had. Growing up I never knew I had a Mom I could brag about for her flying career and service to the country. I guess I was just too busy growing up. I can remember sitting at the dinner table thinking Mom really likes chicken necks, livers, and the smaller cuts of meat. It was much later that I realized I was witnessing one of the lessons of parenthood done right. My Mother was making small sacrifices so I could eat the cuts of chicken I liked and the larger pieces of meat. All in all, I must have learned the lesson because I found myself doing the same as I became a parent.
My Mother was great at teaching life lessons by living life lessons. I came from two very great parents, both were pilots in service to the country. My parents grew up during hard times and taught my sisters and I the meaning of frugality, charity, love, and family. My Mother taught me to cook and how to appreciate inexpensive wine, not cheap bad wine, inexpensive good wine! Mom taught me to stretch every penny when necessary, and together with Dad, she taught me to save and invest for the future. Everything I am I owe to my parents. I had more time with my Father, I wish I had told my Mother how much I loved and appreciated her while she was with us. My Mom was one of the very few great women, and she was a member of an organization of great women, my Mother was a WASP!
Lesley and Pete passed on a love for aviation to their children. Their daughter Marleen, a nurse, is a private pilot and member of the Ninety-Nines and son Richard, a B-52G navigator.
On October 21, 2010, Representative Cliff Stearns presented the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Lesley's husband Pete. He said, "Lesley Williams stepped forward when her nation called for volunteers to defend our nation, and we are all grateful for her service and that of her fellow members of the WASP."