Originally, this all came about from one question - “Who are the Australian winners of the 99s (International Women Pilots) Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship (AEMS)?”
When I did ask, I kept getting answers and suggestions of names, but nothing concrete of names with years and what they applied for. The answer wafted from definitely 3 to maybe 4 or 5 Australian winners.
In 2007, an Australian won a 99s AEMS for the first time in 16 years. So the question was raised and as I could not get a definitive answer, so the research began. In 2008 I went to the 99s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Anchorage, Alaska and attended the 99s Amelia Earhart Awards Dinner. At that dinner was a visual presentation of all the winners with their photo and year and what they had applied for. Before I left I approached the laptop operator and asked if I could take notes. I looked for names that were familiar. These were the names I had written down from previous conversations with members. This presentation did not state what country they came from, so it was not until our current Australian 99s Governor, Jennifer Graham, suggested that there was a fifth member that I researched via the 99s website and discovered that the country of origin of each winner was listed and ‘hey presto’ I had the fifth name. So now my information was complete; I had the names, the years and what they applied for. Of all 5, only 4 were still alive, so I felt that I should get motivated and interview them and research Nancy Ellis-Leebold, whom I discovered had passed away in 1982 in Sydney.
(Nancy was the first Australian and first overseas winner of this Scholarship in 1954. She used it to gain her Aircraft Engineering Licence).
I then approached each recipient and either interviewed them or sent a questionnaire. Everyone was happy to assist and provided some very interesting stories of what they had done with their lives and aviation since they won their Scholarships (which I then put into an article). To ensure accuracy, I sent each pilot a copy of what I had written and waited until they confirmed that they were happy with the article. They also provided photographs.
When I researched Nancy Ellis-Leebold, I was astounded by my lack of knowledge about this great lady. I found a 1965 quote from Nancy Bird-Walton, who called her the “most highly qualified and active flying woman in Australia”, and found some quite conflicting information, so the research had to be authenticated before I could write anything about her. It was a fascinating journey, as I do enjoy research, but difficult as there is very little written about Nancy and I never met her.
I feel that I completely missed out on meeting an amazing lady and professional pilot who appears not to have written a book about her life, making it a challenge to find out more about her.
I think a Biography of Nancy Ellis-Leebold is long overdue.
If you have any stories about Nancy, you can email Cathy at email@example.com.
I am still seeking her four logbooks.