Florene Miller Watson

Florene Miller Watson, 93, of Borger, Texas, died February 4, 2014. Celebrationof Life services will be at 10:30 am Monday, February 10, 2014 at Faith Covenant Churchin Borger with Pastor Les Sharp officiating and under the direction of Minton Chatwell FuneralDirectors of Borger. The family will receive guests Sunday, February 9, 2014 from5-7pm 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 inthe Odessa, Texas area. Florene became fascinated with planes when at the age of 8 she tookher first airplane ride in a WWI Barnstormer’s open-cockpit plane at Big Lake. “My fatherand I shared our exhilaration for airplanes.” When she was a college sophomore, her fatherpurchased a Luscombe airplane so his family could learn to fly. He anticipated the UnitedStates going to war with Germany and wanted his eldest children to contribute to the war effortas aviators.By age 19, Florene had finished flight school and completed her first solo flight. Duringthe next 2 years, Florene obtained her commercial license, trained in aerobatics, and earnedground-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 attackedPearl Harbor on her 21st birthday. Soon afterward she and her younger brother volunteeredfor service in the Army Air Corps.Florene was one of only 25 women who qualified for the original Women’s Auxiliary FerryingSquadron (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 forplanes. 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 Lightningand her favorite, the North American P-51D Mustang.After the war, Florene married Chris Watson, her former flight-training student who was aPhillips Petroleum engineer. They raised two daughters while being frequently relocated byPhillips. Florene returned to college earning a BA at Lamar Tech University and a MBA atthe 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 ofFaith Covenant Church, belonged to many community organizations and did much volunteerwork. She was also a National Flower judge, a swimming instructor, a real estate and insurancesalesperson, a mutual fund representative and a test cook for Betty Crocker.Florene maintained close ties to aviation with memberships in the Texas Aviation HistoricalSociety, the Ninety-Nines, the Air Force Association, the Commemorative Air Force, theWomen’s Military Aviators and the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots WWII and others. Shewas featured in numerous newspapers, magazines and books with photos and write-ups andfrequently interviewed for television programs plus video and audio histories for universityarchives and aviation museums. She was also featured in the nationally-broadcasted TV documentaryWomen of Courage explaining the role of WASP in WWII. Florene also served asnational WASP chaplain for many years.Some of her most cherished honors include the Distinguished Flying Corps Membership inthe Kritser Aviation and Space Museum, Amarillo, TX, l988; induction into the Ninety-NinesInternational Forest of Friendship, Atichison, Kansas (Amelia Earhart’s home) for exceptionalcontributions to aviation, l995; first woman inductee into the Panhandle Veterans Hall ofFame, 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 ofHonor, 2002; designation as an Eagle 4 separate times at the Air Force’s annual Gathering ofEagles 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 herhometown of Big Lake, TX the Florene Miller Watson Airport, 2003; and most importantly in2010 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 twobrothers, LaMonte Miller and Dolph Miller. She is survived by two daughters, Gail Smithand 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, ChrisWhittington 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 everyoneshe met. She lived Mark 12:30, 31 . . . ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’