In this episode we are joined by Barbara Morris Wood and Karen Wallin Usas.
Barbara will be celebrating her 100th birthday on September 13, 2022! A very special early happy birthday greeting from all of us here at the Pan Am Museum!
Barbara worked for Pan Am for five years between 1944 and 1949. Her time at Pan Am, while short, was nothing short of exceptional as she pioneered a path for women to move up the ranks of the airline. She became the first woman to work the ticket counter and Barbara’s can-do spirit never waned.
After recognizing other inequalities, she acted on them, bringing benefits to the airline industry many still enjoy today. If you ever worked for an airline and enjoyed flight benefits, you have Barbara to thank! While at Pan Am, Barbara thought it was unfair that only company executives and flight crews had travel benefits with the airline. She wrote a convincing letter to management and advocated that all Pan Am employees regardless of position, including ticket counter, catering, and maintenance employees, should have all the same rights and flying benefits as everyone else.
The airline quickly agreed and expanded company travel benefits to all employees. This also set the employee flight benefit expectation in the aviation industry and other airlines followed Pan Am’s lead.
During the end of World War II, Barbara was tasked with interviewing men returning from the war for jobs within the airline. In this capacity, Barbara would meet and hire her future husband, Ernie Wood, – remarking that he was not like the rest of the interviewees – and even called him weird. Nonetheless, the spark of romance and adventure was in the air and the two started dating a little bit afterward.
At their wedding in Damascus, Syria, Barbara and Ernie would be surrounded by Pan Am employees in a faraway land, truly a reflection on the rest of their lives. As a young woman starting out with Pan Am, never having left New England before, the company was the catalyst that would change her life forever. With Pan Am she met life-long friends, and her husband who went on to work for the company for 31 years after Barbara hired him.
Karen Wallin Usas joined Pan Am as a flight attendant in 1970. She originally went to school to be a teacher, but a chance encounter with a flight attendant at a wedding intrigued her to apply to Pan Am and change direction in her career plans.
Karen grew up in LaGrange, Illinois, a Chicago suburb and graduated from University of Illinois, Urbana in 1969 with a degree in Education. As a young airline employee, the world was within her reach and Karen was able to travel to many exotic places that before she could only read and dream about.
For ten years between 1970 and 1980, Karen always felt comfortable in foreign lands with Pan Am and the excitement of adventure from those times has never waned. And when she looks back on the fond memories of her flying days…traveling the world with co-workers and her husband…it always brings a big smile and a deep sense of pride.
After Pan Am, she taught in many capacities and currently serves as a docent at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Barbara and Karen both live in Rhode Island and are neighbors and have become close friends.