Reading old issues of fraternity and sorority magazines is one of my favorite hobbies. In flipping through the Winter 1946 issue of The Compass of Theta Phi Alpha, I found a page with the title “A Hot Pilot is Born.”
The article tells the story of a Theta Phi Alpha from its Lambda chapter, Mildred “Millie” Lonergan. She and her sister Mary were in the chapter together. When I saw that she was from the Lambda chapter, I knew that meant she and I had a Syracuse bond. The Theta Phi Alpha house had been just down the street from my Pi Phi house. It was gone by the time I arrived at Syracuse. The Alibrandi Catholic Center is now located on the site. There is a plaque acknowledging Theta Phi Alpha’s contribution of the plot of land to the center. It is one of my favorite places to worship.
Millie won the Senior Service award in 1943 and Mary took the honor in 1945. Millie served as the chapter’s Vice President, Historian, Activities Chairman, and Chairman of the Special Events Committee. On campus, she was President of the City Women’s Club, Junior Editor of the Daily Orange, a member of the Newman Club, Theta Sigma Phi, and the Student Court Committee.
After graduation, she was hired by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. While working for the company in San Francisco, she heard a radio ad asking “Are you in a rut?” That question led Millie and her roommate to use their two week vacation to take flying lessons. “A secret dream of one donning a WASP uniform curled at my thoughts. Unfortunately, the organization folded without my contribution to the cause,” she wrote.
After two weeks of flying lessons, she went on her first solo flight. “With a trembling hand I shoved the throttle forward – ‘gave it the gun,’ we pilots say – until my ears were filled with a deafening roar and, as I pushed the stick forward, my little Cub and I flew down the runway. Gradually I inched back the stick, and suddenly the earth lay far below and I was winging my way toward the sun, singing at the top of my lungs with sheer ecstasy. I laughed and sang and prayed all around the pattern, my prayers increasing as I made the last turn and dropped toward the runway again. Believe it or not, I made my first – and last – perfect three-point landing.
“My instructor grabbed me in a mighty bear hug and only then did I realize that he had been just as scared as I. He took over the controls and we circled the field in a crazy fashion – then dove straight for the hangar for the most beautiful ‘buzz’ I’ve ever seen.
“Thus it was announced to the world that a new ‘Hot Pilot’ had been born.”
Well, that story was too good not to try to find out more. What happened to Millie? I googled and found Virginia State Senate Joint Resolution No. 211 dated March 7, 2014. I also found out that Millie married Jack McAuliffe. They had four sons, John, Joseph, Thomas, and Terence (Terry McAuliffe, the Governor of Virginia).
Millie died on February 13, 2014 at the age of 92. She spent almost all her life in Syracuse where she was a wife, mother, and community volunteer. She once worked at a Syracuse flower shop where she convinced men to purchase roses by saying, “Buy a rose for a dollar and save your marriage.”
The Virginia Senate resolution reads in part, “known for her joyful spirit, Millie McAuliffe brightened community and social events with her wry sense of humor and for singing rousing renditions of ‘Hello, Dolly!’; and WHEREAS, a proud and devout Catholic, Millie McAuliffe enjoyed fellowship and worship with the community as a founding member of St. Ann’s Church; she served as a president of the Altar and Rosary Society.”
At the funeral service which was held on February 19, 2014 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, “Hello Dolly” was sung as the recessional.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2014. All rights reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/