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Obituary ~ Ava Carmichael
October 10, 1927 ~ August 10, 2004

San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego, California
August 20, 2004, by Jack Williams, staff writer

Ava Carmichael, 79; accomplished pilot; theater supporter

For late-blooming aviator Ava Carmichael, the Powder Puff Derby was a midlife flight of passage.

She was in her mid-40s when she and her co-pilot, Wanda Cummings, took off in her Cessna 182 in the 1971 all-woman transcontinental race from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to Baton Rouge, La. Adverse weather and a mechanical malfunction put an end to their race in Waterloo, Iowa, requiring an emergency landing in a cornfield.

Fearful that the farmer who owned the land would sue her, Mrs. Carmichael braced herself for a chilly reception. Instead, the farmer thanked her for avoiding his soybean crop.

"The corn was only $5 a bushel compared with the soy beans at $9 a bushel," said her husband, Dr. David Carmichael. "All the farmer wanted to do was sit down and talk. They wound up sharing apple pie and coffee."

Mrs. Carmichael, who completed two other Powder Puff derbies in her 40s, went on to collaborate with her husband in "From White Knuckles to Cockpit Cool," a manual for light-plane pilots published in 1977 by Aero Publishing Co. of Fallbrook.

She died Aug. 10 at the couple's vacation home in Santa Fe, N.M., apparently of a heart rhythm disorder, said her husband, a retired cardiologist. She was 79.

As a longtime San Diegan, Mrs. Carmichael had served as the second president of the Globe Guilders and was president in the 1960s of the San Diego Medical Auxiliary.

She became so enamored of flying, a recreation she took up to please her husband, that she achieved certification in single-engine, multiengine and commercial aircraft.

"She became an expert," said her husband, the former chief of staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital-La Jolla. "She spoke to groups about flying, one as far away as Lubbock, Texas."

The Carmichaels started learning to fly at Montgomery Field about the same time, but separately.

"I thought the grocery bills were getting higher, but she was paying for her lessons," her husband said. "She took it up, as she did tennis, because she knew it was interesting and important to me."

Mrs. Carmichael had always been a quick study.

She graduated from high school at 15 in her native Texas, earned a bachelor's degree with honors in communications and speech pathology at Texas Tech University at 18, and received a master's at 19 in theater arts at the University of Iowa.

As a pilot, she joined her husband in flying throughout the Western Hemisphere in a series of private planes, including a seven-passenger Cessna Golden Eagle. It was a passion they shared with tennis.

Joining an international goodwill tour in the late 1960s, the Carmichaels competed in several European countries. A Class B tennis player, Mrs. Carmichael was the only American winner in a tournament in Denmark, her husband recalled.

The Carmichaels, who were married nearly 60 years, settled in Pacific Beach in 1955. Before long, Mrs. Carmichael became a founding member of the Farnum Elementary School PTA and served as its president.

She applied her theatrical skills to a lead role in "The Ten Little Indians" at Old Globe Theatre and later became involved in Globe Guilders, a support group formed in 1955.

The Carmichaels bought a La Jolla Shores home in the late 1950s after Dr. Carmichael, who had been a naval medical officer, went into private practice.

For more than 40 years, Mrs. Carmichael was active in a book club for Navy wives, often sharing anecdotes she had read about one of her favorite historical figures, Mary, Queen of Scots.

"On vacations, we would visit every place that Mary went," her husband said. "We spent 35 days tracking Mary's steps through Scotland and Ireland."

Mrs. Carmichael enjoyed annual summer visits to Santa Fe, where she collected Southwestern art, pottery and rugs. Her San Diego memberships included Las Patronas and the Wednesday Club.

In addition to her husband, survivors include her daughters, Catherine Xander St. John of San Diego, Dr. Heather Carmichael Olson of Seattle, Linda Carmichael Gamble of Bethel, Maine, and Ava Carmichael Eagles of Lamoni, Iowa; four grandchildren; and four step-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 28 at at St. James by the Sea Episcopal Church, La Jolla.

Donations are suggested to the Ava S. Carmichael Memorial Theatre Scholarship, Graceland University, 1 University Plaza, Lamoni, IA 50140, Attn. Dr. Sherri Kirkpatrick.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, November of 2015