COOLCRAZYBEAUTIFUL: Althea “Gerry” Lister Papers


A Pick of the Week from Special Collections of the UM Libraries

By Emily Gibson

One of Pan Am’s earliest and most notable employees, Althea “Gerry” Lister made many strides as a woman in the aviation world, serving as the Secretary to the General Traffic Manager, then as an Assistant to the Passenger Service Manager, and finally as the Pan Am Museum’s curator and company historian.

Althea “Gerry” Lister receives her 45-year service pin from Chairman William T. Seawell, July 30, 1973.

Gerry Lister began her career with Pan Am as far back as 1928 and was the first female employee to receive a 15-year pin, a 20-year pin, and a 30-year pin, and she was the first employee overall to receive the 45-year pin, indicating the wealth of dedication she had for the company. In an article from the July 1958 issue of The Clipper discussing the reception of her 30-year pin, Lister describes her most memorable moment in her 30 years with Pan Am as the day she was sitting with President Juan J. Trippe in his office in New York just as the Clipper America was preparing to take off on its very first commercial round-the-world air trip.

Lister dusts a model of the Yankee Clipper on exhibit at the Clipper Hall Museum located inside John F. Kennedy International Airport where she was museum curator, March 2, 1965.

This brand new collection that we recently received as an adjacent collection to our Pan American Airways, Inc. Records currently holds two fascinating albums, donated to us through a private donor, that detail much of Lister’s work through photos, clippings, documentation, and ephemera, all of which illustrate her accomplishments during the length of her service. Stemming from an early interest and technical understanding of planes, flying, and maintenance, she contributed to the company in ways that were highly unusual for a woman of her time. She herself had piloted nearly every type of plane from the time she was a young adult, a feat that had been largely restricted to men back then and one that still remains prevalent today given the ratio of female to male pilots.

One of the albums contains a draft written by Lister, entitled “Along Air Avenues,” wherein she describes the daily procedures of a plane’s pilot and its staff down to its most minute  of details, from pre-flight checks to the plane’s regular maintenance and safety precautions. The draft highlights her level of expertise in piloting and aviation management while also indicating her willingness to inspire and educate future pilots by explaining every facet of a typical flight with her level of depth.

This collection, now in process, will soon be available for research.

COOLCRAZYBEAUTIFUL is written by Yvette Yurubi and showcases unique items at Special Collections and the University Archives discovered by librarians and staff members while on the job. They gather monthly for “Show and Tell” to present their top finds. You too can experience these items up close, and access other rare and interesting treasures, by visiting Special Collections and the University Archives, located on the 8th floor of the Otto G. Richter Library.