by Charles McGee - March 3, 2006

There is a saying that fits the life we celebrate, the life of Ethel Meyer Finley. The source is anonymous and I quote:

Don’t walk in front of me, I might not always follow . . .
Don’t walk behind me, I might not always lead . . .
Just walk beside me, . . . and be my friend.

Ethel was a pioneer and a determined spirit throughout her life.  She emulated her mother as she grew up on the family farm in Minnesota.  Her mom was the type to drive an automobile when it wasn’t popular for women to do that, and she fought to get electricity in the house.  Ethel inherited her mom’s sound work ethic and the importance of getting an education.  Ethel told me it was a fun time - a time of hard work and a time of learning to help in the family’s growth and caring for younger members.

She in later years cataloged her life in transition periods:

  Leaving the simple and somewhat protected life on the farm to go to college.

  Leaving college and teaching in their somewhat protected environment to enter military service.

  Serving the military in the Woman Airforce Service Pilot program - with it’s change of lifestyle.

  Leaving the service . . . marriage and raising her family: Janet, Joanne and Mike, and taking pride in grandchildren, Shannon, Ben, Rachel and Evan and great granddaughters Hayley and Nicole

  Progression into alcohol addiction

  Surrender and recovery - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing, the latter profoundly affected by the death of her mother and friend, Max Conrad

That was Ethel’s catalog of her life events. I would add to that another —

  Her years of friendships and service.

How will we remember Ethel?

Big - her love of the outdoors and enjoyment of the beauty of nature’s scenes from ocean side to mountain top, evident in a greater part of her life . . . play in her early years, walking, sailing, appreciating the beauty of a sculptured golf course (particularly when she was beating me), . . . traveling, . . . places like Taize, France . . . twice wasn’t enough, and she talked of going again, and always with an easy laugh.

Role models and heroes were the corner stone of Ethel’s life. I’ve mentioned her mother, and there was Charles Lindbergh whose transatlantic flight sparked her interest in flying, and Max Conrad who gave her lessons and shared his skill, and, in later years, Father Stephen, with whom she frequently communicated to gain insight to ‘living life.’

Service in the military as a WASP fulfilled both her patriotic duty and personal ambition. And later she took great pride in service rendered, in the many friends walking by her side, and becoming president in their post war association.

Ethel spoke of these years also as “the good years” of her life. Being of service gave her focus in life. She stated it this way:

My enjoyment is in seeking and acquiring
my own connection with God
through prayer and meditation,
and acting in ‘social service’

The latter, the social service, she accomplished in developing half way houses for women and her service in the WASP programs.

She was quick to see what was needed and quick to choose the path for accomplishment. Ethel was a self-starter . . . she did not always follow. And often for her, ‘not always leading’ means: ‘I’m doing this My Way . . . no matter if you follow or not.’ She was in her comfort zone and, more often than not, successful!

Again, in her words: “It was fulfilling, rewarding and (gave me) a deep sense of joy to see change, growth and new life take hold as women healed their wounds, gained self-respect, and clarified their vision in our journey together.”

As she worked in the WASP program, she constantly thought of ways the association could mentor young women interested in aviation.

All along the way, Ethel allowed a growing number of friends to walk by her side . . . those who shared her love for quiet moments, . . . for soothing music, . . . for friendly and enlightening conversation, . . . a shared lunch or dinner, . . . for walks in the park or on the beach.

May our memory of Ethel’s life inspire us to:

- Not talk about our neighborhoods, but how we treat our neighbors,

- Not talk about the square footage of our house, but how many people we welcome into our home,

- Not count the clothes in our closet, but how many we have helped to clothe,

- Not count how many friends we have, but the number to whom we are a friend.

God’s blessing and peace for Ethel, and for us.

Thank you to Chig Lewis, son of WASP Dot Lewis, for sharing these words.