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Women fly high in aviation field

By Ed Brock

It wasn't easy for Doris Sims, an aviation electrician supervisor at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, to get where she is today.

"I had to believe in myself to exceed my expectations," said 46-year-old Sims who lives in Morrow.

That's why Sims was one of four women recognized by Hartsfield-Jackson in honor of Women's History Month. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Ben DeCosta were on hand Monday to praise Sims and other women who have accomplished much in the field of aviation.

"I'm always pleased when we can recognize women who have broken through barriers that aren't easy to break through," Franklin said.

During a press event at the AirTran Airways hangar near the airport, Sims was joined by retired Delta Air Lines pilot Joy Walker, Hartsfield-Jackson Security Manager Jan Washington and AirTran Maintenance Technician Mary Beth Hile. Each one told their story of what it took to accomplish their goals in a field once considered only for men.

Walker, 62, said she spent time giving pilot license tests in Africa before coming home and joining Delta in 1973. She started her career with a class for training on being a flight engineer.

"On that morning in 1973 when I walked into that classroom it took 30 seconds for me to realize I was the first woman," Walker said. "Delta had 3,267 men and me."

Walker also remembered walking in uniform to her first flight. As she approached a crowd of people she realized that they were all staring at her, making her feel like "a deer in headlights." Then a woman in the crowd approached her and told her she was proud of her.

"She said 'You're carrying the banner for women everywhere,'" Walker said.

In the following years since then women have "learned to stand tall to step over obstacles placed in our way," Walker said.

"We now have the choices to do what we want to do and not just what other people thought we ought to do," Walker said.

Washington, 40, said she has spent her life doing things others said a woman could never do, including being a deputy warden at the Virginia Pamunky Regional Jail before coming to Atlanta.

"And they said oh, no, a woman has never been a security manager at Hartsfield-Jackson," Washington said.

She went on to encourage other women to enter the aviation field as well.

Hile talked about her father's encouragement when she decided, at age 34, to become a aviation mechanic. She said some people would come to him and ask how he could let his daughter take up that career.

"He would reply that if it weren't for women like her during World War II manning the factories, perhaps today we'd all be speaking German or Japanese," Hile said.

Hile listed all the other women who contributed to aviation history in some way, from Katherine Wright who encouraged her brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright to persevere in their dream of manned flight to the "Rosie the Riveters" to whom her father had referred.

"I am proud to follow in the footsteps of these women," Wright said.