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Wednesday, April 16, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Betty Greene, 76; Pioneer Aviatrix, Missionary And A Lady To Her Core

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Betty Greene: missionary aviatrix. Although the label is like the breathless title of a '50s comic book, it's a pretty fair summary of the true-life adventures of Elizabeth Everts "Betty" Greene.

Born in Seattle in 1920, Ms. Greene took a shine to flying after older brother Joe took it up.

When World War II began, although women were restricted from flying combat missions, Ms. Greene did the next best thing: She finished her degree in sociology at the University of Washington early so she could join the Women's Airforce Service Pilots.

She flew several kinds of military planes during the war and did experimental work on high-altitude flights. Ms. Greene even flew a plane towing a target, while her twin brother, Bill, fired artillery at it from the ground.

After the war, Ms. Greene, a devout Presbyterian, helped found the Missionary Aviation Fellowship.

"She was interested in missionary aviation and the notion that airplanes could help in the remote portions of the world," said her brother Al Greene.

From the late 1940s until the 1960s, Ms. Greene ferried missionaries to some of Mexico's and South America's most out-of-the-way settlements. She also likely was the first woman to fly over the rugged Andes. Ms. Greene also flew throughout New Guinea and Africa, where the Sudanese Parliament had to proclaim a dispensation before the woman could fly her Cessna 180 in the country. "They called her `The Golden Voice of the Sudan' because she was a woman, and of course there weren't any women on the radio waves" between the airplane and the ground, Al Greene said.

Ms. Greene, who had Alzheimer's disease, died Thursday (April 10). She was 76.

"Betty was a lady" in the highest sense of the word, said her longtime friend Eleanor Vandevert. "She wasn't out to make herself stand out as anyone in particular, but after you left the room, you knew that she was."

She is survived by her brothers Al and Bill of Portland, and several nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. Her brother Joe died in 1991.

A memorial service for Ms. Greene is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue following a private family burial service. Visitation hours will be 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Green's Bellevue Funeral Home.

Memorials can be sent to Mission Aviation Fellowship, Box 3202, Redlands, CA 92373-0998, or to the charity of choice.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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