Inside story of a story
For the last couple of weeks you have probably read, maybe with passing interest, the press releases about two helicopter pilots, Jennifer Murray and Colin Bodill, who were going to make our Smith Valley one of their stops during their attempt to set another world-record flight in their combined resumé of accomplishments. Smith Valley doesn’t seem a likely place for a planned stop within a route of something that, if achieved, would become a historic event.
But, as it turned out, one of the pilots, Jennifer Murray was the cousin of Georgia Fulstone, a long-time Smith Valley resident. Also, the fourth- through sixth-grade students of Smith Valley School had been one of 26 schools in the world that had participated in an educational program through the Royal Geographical Society of London, who developed an online environmental program, for schools to participate in, tracking the course of this historic flight. That was impressive.
I went online. I read about what the pilots were trying to achieve and what they had done in the past. I talked with Georgia as she told me about her cousin and what she had accomplished in her life. The more I found out, the more I wanted to see the arrival of the Bell 407 helicopter as it touched down, landing its pilots in Smith Valley.
They were supposed to land in the valley March 22, a Thursday, and a hard day for me to leave the paper. It’s a proof day, the day the paper gets ready to go to press. All hands are needed on deck to do the last minute things to meet the 4 p.m. deadline and yet, editor Kurt Hildebrand, let me go cover the story.
The helicopter was due to arrive at the SVS football field at 1:30 p.m. and I was there, anxious and early. All eyes, including mine, scanned the horizon to be the first to spot the arrival. Nervous minutes passed, not knowing that head winds had delayed the arrival time, there was no sight or sound of the approaching helicopter. They were late for their estimated time of arrival and several hundred pairs of eyes and ears strained in amazing silence to be the first to hear or see them.
There it was, almost 2 p.m., the first muffled whop, whop, whop sound of an approaching helicopter … first heard but still not seen. Then a dark speck appeared on the southeastern horizon, becoming more visible. Within minutes it became a recognizable image as it circled above us and electric excitement filled the air as it came to a soft landing in the middle of the field. The bright red Bell 407 was emblazoned in white lettering displaying all the sponsors that had made the flight possible, and there on its tail, the names of all the participating schools of the online project. In the middle of the list, for all the world to see, was Smith Valley School. What an honor.
I was trying to take pictures of the event when Jennifer handed me a camera, asking me if I could take some pictures for them too. I found myself in a very curious situation. The camera she handed me was a new Cannon EOS, but it was the same physical configuration as the newspaper’s Cannon Rebel I was using.
Now, I was juggling two cameras that were almost physically identical, trying to catch the moment with both. I was having a hard time remembering which one was which as I tried to catch images with both cameras for two different reasons and still achieve the same job. Whew … talk about multi-tasking. Did I get the job done? Dunno. I hope so.
Not to diminish the accomplishments or importance of Colin Bodill but my fascination was focused on Jennifer. For one thing, Bodill had been a career pilot, flying many types of aircraft since his mid-20s and now, at the age of 56, that meant almost half of his life. Jennifer, on the other hand, was relatively new at flying in comparison to her co-pilot. At the age of 66, her list of accomplishments is long and varied and an inspiration to all of us, an example that nothing is really impossible if you set your mind to pursuing your dreams.
A graduate in textile design, an adventuress at heart, she spent time after graduating, traveling, working in the United States and drove a car all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska, in the early 1960s. She went to London and became a freelance textile designer then married Simon Murray in 1966 and moved to Thailand. There she started her own textile company printing and selling wholesale Thai silks and cottons. She has trekked Nepal, Bhutan, run marathons in London, Hong Kong and Kenya. She got her helicopter pilot’s license in 1994 at the age of 54 and if that wasn’t enough, entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 1997 as the first woman to pilot a helicopter around the world with co-pilot Quentin Smith. In 2000 she repeated the event solo. In 2003 she and partner Colin Bodill survived a helicopter crash in the Antarctica while attempting a world-record flight and now she is well on her way to achieving that world record that was lost in the 2003 accident.
Jennifer Murray is a perfect definition of what it means to keep on keepin’ on.