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Florene Miller Watson

February 8, 2014

Florene Miller Watson, 93, of Borger, Texas, died February 4, 2014. Celebration
of Life services will be at 10:30 am Monday, February 10, 2014 at Faith Covenant Church
in Borger with Pastor Les Sharp officiating and under the direction of Minton Chatwell Funeral
Directors of Borger. The family will receive guests Sunday, February 9, 2014 from
5-7pm at the funeral home.
Florene Miller Watson was born on December 7, l920 in San Angelo, Texas to Thomas L.
and Flora Theis Miller. Her father was a watchmaker and owner of a jewelry store chain in
the Odessa, Texas area. Florene became fascinated with planes when at the age of 8 she took
her first airplane ride in a WWI Barnstormer’s open-cockpit plane at Big Lake. “My father
and I shared our exhilaration for airplanes.” When she was a college sophomore, her father
purchased a Luscombe airplane so his family could learn to fly. He anticipated the United
States going to war with Germany and wanted his eldest children to contribute to the war effort
as aviators.
By age 19, Florene had finished flight school and completed her first solo flight. During
the next 2 years, Florene obtained her commercial license, trained in aerobatics, and earned
ground-school and flight instructor ratings. She was teaching civilian men enrolled in the government-
sponsored War Training Program to fly in Odessa, Texas when the Japanese attacked
Pearl Harbor on her 21st birthday. Soon afterward she and her younger brother volunteered
for service in the Army Air Corps.
Florene was one of only 25 women who qualified for the original Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying
Squadron (WAFS), later known as the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). In January,
l943, Florene became Commanding Officer of the WASP stationed at Love Field, Dallas.
In l944, she served as a test pilot in a highly secretive program to develop radar equipment for
planes. By the time the war was over, Florene had flown every type of training, cargo, fighter,
and twin and four-engine bomber that the Air Corps used including: Aeronea, Waco, Taylorcraft,
Piper Cub, BT-13, PT-17, PT-19, AT-6, AT-9, AT-10, AT-11, AT-17, A-20, A-26, P-38,
P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51, SB2C, C-47(DC-3), B-17, B-24, B-25, Lockheed P-38F Lightning
and her favorite, the North American P-51D Mustang.
After the war, Florene married Chris Watson, her former flight-training student who was a
Phillips Petroleum engineer. They raised two daughters while being frequently relocated by
Phillips. Florene returned to college earning a BA at Lamar Tech University and a MBA at
the University of Houston and then taught college for 30 years at the University of Houston,
Howard College in Big Spring and Frank Phillips College in Borger. Florene was a member of
Faith Covenant Church, belonged to many community organizations and did much volunteer
work. She was also a National Flower judge, a swimming instructor, a real estate and insurance
salesperson, a mutual fund representative and a test cook for Betty Crocker.
Florene maintained close ties to aviation with memberships in the Texas Aviation Historical
Society, the Ninety-Nines, the Air Force Association, the Commemorative Air Force, the
Women’s Military Aviators and the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots WWII and others. She
was featured in numerous newspapers, magazines and books with photos and write-ups and
frequently interviewed for television programs plus video and audio histories for university
archives and aviation museums. She was also featured in the nationally-broadcasted TV documentary
Women of Courage explaining the role of WASP in WWII. Florene also served as
national WASP chaplain for many years.
Some of her most cherished honors include the Distinguished Flying Corps Membership in
the Kritser Aviation and Space Museum, Amarillo, TX, l988; induction into the Ninety-Nines
International Forest of Friendship, Atichison, Kansas (Amelia Earhart’s home) for exceptional
contributions to aviation, l995; first woman inductee into the Panhandle Veterans Hall of
Fame, August, l996; “Distinguished Veteran” honoree at the Air Force Military Ball in Dallas,
TX, l997; the Daughters of the American Revolution’s highest honor--their National Medal of
Honor, 2002; designation as an Eagle 4 separate times at the Air Force’s annual Gathering of
Eagles celebration; the National Air Force Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, 2004;
induction into the Galveston Aviation Hall of Fame, 2004; the renaming of the airport in her
hometown of Big Lake, TX the Florene Miller Watson Airport, 2003; and most importantly in
2010 the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress can present to a civilian.
Florene was preceded in death by her husband of 68 years, G. Christie Watson, and two
brothers, LaMonte Miller and Dolph Miller. She is survived by two daughters, Gail Smith
and husband, Gerald of Silverton, TX and Jean Roark and husband, Lee of Woodway, TX;
four grandchildren: Greg Sutphen of Houston, TX, Shelly Sutphen Garcia of Katy, TX, Chris
Whittington of Englewood, CO and Clay Whittington of Denver, CO; two great grandchildren:
Axton Whittington and Blake Garcia; and one sister, Garnette Erwin of Richardson, TX.
Florene lived her life cheerfully giving to others and always believing the best in everyone
she met. She lived Mark 12:30, 31 . . . ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

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