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F.C. Artist & Aviator Lucille Mellema Dies

LUCILLE MELLEMA

Lucille Jordan (Mellema) left her rural North Carolina home at 18, and came to the Washington, D.C. metro area at the start of U.S. involvement in WWII. After which she met and married Ben Mellema, a veteran WWII paratrooper (11th Airborne).

In the early part of 1961 the couple moved from Arlington to Falls Church City with their infant son, Kevin, in tow.

Lucille Mellema put in over 35 years service as a statistician for the Civil Aeronautics Board, until it was absolved and remaining portions absorbed into the Department of Transportation, where she retired from.

Flying was her true passion. As a member of the Ninety-Nines, she counted amongst her friends Fay Wells one of the original pioneering 99 aviatrix members (namely Amelia Earhart and 98 of her less famous contemporaries, back when there were only 117 licensed women pilots in the country). Among many other things, Fay was credited with being one of the first women to bail out of a plane to save her life. You have to think they had a certain trial-by-fire bond seeing how as…  

One of Lucille’s most notable aviation exploits came in the latter part of 1959, when she she made a forced landing on a local high school football field. As she told it, the football team was practicing and scattered pretty quickly when they realized she was coming down. She made a safe landing despite flying semi-blind due to a busted oil line covering the windscreen with hot oil.

Exiting the plane, she was surprised to find a large mound of dirt in front of her. Something she had not seen beforehand.

Multiple disasters averted, the wings were removed and the plane trucked back to the airport.  You could land it there, but even after it was fixed, it would never get airborne in the distance available.

She always finished the story with a chuckle and a twinkle in her eye. When she appeared at the airport the next day, she found the guys had marked off the distance she had landed in. Much to their consternation, they couldn’t do it.

In her youth, Lucille wanted to become a doctor, but felt that path was blocked due to her sex. After her retirement from the Federal Government, she went back to school and became a licensed ambulance rated EMT.

The last 20 years of her life Alzheimer’s made it’s slow inexorable deductions.

The disease’s Aphasia aspects struck especially hard, slowly taking away her ability to talk in understandable ways. Being cared for by her son those last 20 years, she was however able to enjoy life to the limit of her abilities.

Always having been one for interesting art and design, she got a heavy immersion in it. During the five year run of the ‘Art Beat’ column here in the Falls Church News-Press she had an almost daily diet of art hopping. Visiting virtually all the known art galleries and art museums in the greater D.C. metro area.  

Universally referred to as ‘Mom’, it was as if the entire D.C. art scene had found some embodiment of their own mothers in her presence. Of course her winsome smile, and pleasant demeanor didn’t hurt matters.

Despite her scrambled cognition, and then dodgy language abilities, she was in high cotton. She loved relating to the art at hand, and got treated like some sort of familial royalty, all at the same time. They were ironically some of her happiest years.

Secretly known as the harshest art critic in the household. Comically having to be discreetly ‘shhh’-ed on occasions when her off-the-cuff critiques escaped the bounds of ‘constructive criticism’. None the wiser, until now.

Ultimately age and disease progression prevented her from maintaining the required pace of incessant gallery hopping, and the Art Beat column ended.

However, to the very end aviation was never far from her mind. Going for near daily ‘drives’ around town, she inevitably would point skyward at passing planes. Needless to say, she loved stops at Gravelly Point off the end of the main runway at National Airport. It was special treat when the typical southward approach pattern down the Potomac was changed to come in over Arlington,  bringing the jets almost directly overhead.

Preceded by her husband, she will be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. JFK has the Perpetual Flame. She will have the perpetual flow of planes passing by.

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