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Charmian Byers-Jones

Thursday, January 02, 2014
New London, N.H. — Charmian Byers-Jones, 100+, Aviatrix, professional horticulturalist and devoted bridge player.

Charmian “Tahmee” Byers-Jones passed gently, and surrounded with love, this past Monday, Dec. 30th. Born Charmian Woodruff in June of 1913, she was the tenth generation of her family born in Elizabeth, N.J. She spent her summers at her family’s home on Lake Sunapee in New London, N.H., A bright, adventurous young woman, she begged for a higher education. She graduated from Smith College, cum laude, in 1934.

She attended the Bread Loaf School of English, and was witness to the famous quarrels between Robert Frost and Truman Capote. Married in New London in 1934, she had four children by her first husband, three surviving into adulthood. Charmian worked as a costume designer for the Papermill Playhouse in Milburn, N.J. She moved with her second husband, an opera singer, to Eugene, Oregon in 1947 when he joined the music department at the University of Oregon.

She turned to aviation at 46 years of age after her husband’s death, saying, “I felt very much alone, so rather than mope about, I decided to change my life radically. I signed up for a package of ten lessons at a local airport.” As a pilot she flew search and rescue with the Civil Air Patrol, piloted more than 70 cross country flights (most solo, with a standard poodle as her co-pilot), and crossed the Atlantic in a small twin engine plan with her friend Max Conrad, an aviation pioneer.

In 1960 she joined the Ninety-Nines, the organization of women pilots founded by Amelia Earhart. She competed in a number of air races and derbies in the west, leading her team to victory in a Petticoat Derby. She also obtained her glider’s license.

She had her own nursery in Eugene, developing a new species of hybrid rhododendron.

She loved her family and friends fiercely, and was quoted in a newspaper article at 77, “I’m fortunate. I have had friends of all ages. I’m happy about that. I know people my age who are sad because they’ve limited their friendships to people their own age, and then lose them one by one.” It was this attitude and her daily scotch that were her secrets to longevity. She chose this quote from John Lennon for her 100th birthday celebration, “Count your age by friends not years, count your life by smiles, not tears.”

In 2003, Charmian moved to New London to be closer to her family year round.

Charmian is survived by her children: Valerie W. Gage of Norton, Mass., Nicholas Gilman of Washington, DC, and Charmian G. Abel of Oakland, Calif. She has five grandchildren: Chetwood Gage of New London, N.H., Aaron Gage of Attelboro, Mass., Victoria Gage of New London, N.H., Lindsey Gage of Royersford, Pa. and Margaret Gilman of Attelboro, Mass., She is also survived by four beloved great-grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: the Lake Sunapee Protective Association of Sunapee, NH, the Ninety-Nines or the Friends of Tracy Memorial Library in New London, NH.

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