I recently met the #1 Flight Attendant at Delta Air Lines. In the recesses of every flight attendants mind I’m sure they think, “what would it be like to be Number One?” Think about it. Seniority means everything in the airline business. It determines what you fly, days off, vacation time you get, and how much you get paid. To say I was in awe of meeting Mary Ann would be an understatement.
It happened like this: The facilitator was asking the group about seniority. As they continued to ask “who has more than 20 years raise your hand…who has more than 30 years?”, slowly the hands raised started to lower. Well, at 50 years someone’s hand was still raised. Turns out Mary Ann had been flying for 59 years! Thunderous applause erupted and she got a standing ovation. At that moment someone leaned over and said “She’s #1”. I knew I had to chat with her.
The next morning I had a chance to sit and chat with Mary Ann for a few minutes. She has a presence that is calming and reassuring. Definitely traits needed to be a flight attendant. She is a stewardess. When I mentioned the term stewardess and asked if she minded that I refer to her as a stewardess, she didn’t object at all. To me a stewardess is a flight attendant who is regal, self-assured, gracious, kind. well-put together. And Mary Ann exhibited all of these qualities.
Mary Ann was hired as a stewardess with Pan American World Airways in 1957. She told me how she loved it. She also spoke of how local station managers of other airlines would speak to the young ladies in an attempt to get them to come be a stewardess at their airline. It seems as though she was wooed by someone at Northwest Orient Airlines and began flying with them in 1959.
Surprisingly, when I asked her where she grew up she said “Atlanta.” I almost fell off my chair. Not that there’s anything wrong with Atlanta. I live in Atlanta and it is a nice standard of living. I almost fell off my chair because I saw nothing “southern” about her. One of the other flight attendants at the table said, “You don’t have an accent.” She then said she grew up in what would become known as Midtown, near Ponce de Leon Avenue. Then she went in to her Southern accent and demeanor and wowed us all. Scarlett O’hara has nothing on Mary Ann! After graduating from high school she left Atlanta for New York to attend college. She says her Southern accent reappears around family.
We spoke about world travel of course and life lessons you learn when being out in the world. What we shared in common was the notion that through travel you not only learn about other cultures, people, food, living conditions, etc. You also learn a lot about yourself. And in order to learn you must take the time to stop, listen, and be in the moment. She agreed that everyone has a story to tell and that in order to hear it you must truly listen.
Throughout the day many approached Mary Ann to say congratulations and to be in her presence. Kind, gentle, authentic, real.
Mary Ann is Seattle-based and flies Shanghai route.