Annie “Belle” Lawrence, who died June 24 at the age of 84, was 17 when she earned her pilot license before she had a driver’s license. As a youngster, she saw airplanes buzz over her grandparents’ farm near Lakewood, Georgia, as they landed on a nearby dirt strip. They inspired a passion for aviation in her at a time when women were just beginning to take to the skies. She didn’t just learn to fly airplanes. She became an aviation mechanic and made a business of rebuilding them. She served as a WASP during World War II, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on June 29.
Mrs. Lawrence was an early member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots. She was among the select group of women who served as Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II, ferrying military aircraft throughout the country.
Once she had to make an emergency landing in a cabbage field in Oklahoma said her son, Eric Lawrence. “The farmer in the field she landed in was quite impressed because he had never seen a plane,” he said. The farmer took Mrs. Lawrence into town to buy parts to fix the airplane, which she promptly repaired and flew off in, her son said.
Mrs. Lawrence learned to repair machinery from her grandfather. He was a self-employed machinist who designed and built manufacturing equipment for assembly lines in the big mills in Atlanta. She was a beautiful woman, but a tomboyish one who preferred working with tools and being outdoors.
During the late 1940s and ’50s, Mrs. Lawrence made a business of repairing airplanes in Deland, Fla., where she repaired engines fabric-covered wings. She also taught aviation classes at Stetson University in Deland, and volunteered for more than 25 years as a pilot for the Civil Air Patrol in Fernandina Beach. She married a pilot, the late B.L. Lawrence, and had two sons, Eric and Eliot.
To read the full story: http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2009/06/29/lawrenceobit0629.html