1921 - 2006
Morrison of Monroe, Washington was a woman ahead of her time:
a noteworthy aviator, musician, and an early member of the women's
Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female pilots.
Cleo, who was born in Cawker City, Kansas on the Fourth of July,
came from a family of entertainers. Her grandfather was an actor,
and her uncle was a famous big band leader with the stage name
“Baby Sousa.” While she was a child, her parents joined
a theather company and moved to California.
“My ma, when she was little, slept in the drawer of steamer
trunks with the touring company,” said her son, Randy Morrison.
“Irene Ryan, who would later play the grandma on the Beverly
Hillbillies, babysat her in the rear of each theater while
her parents performed on stage.”
Having learned to play the organ and accordion, Cleo performed
music and worked as a model until she was married at age 16 to
Robert H. Morrison, who was the founder and owner of a successful
vacuum truck business in Long Beach, California. He also was a
part time musician who played saxophone and clarinet at Disneyland.
Cleo began taking flying lessons a week after Randy was born,
and started flying solo shortly thereafter. She entered women’s
air races called “Powder Puff Derbies,” and joined
the women's Ninety-Nines,
which got its name from the 99 female pilots who formed the organization.
Amelia Earhart was a charter member and the group's first president.
In fact, Cleo flew some of Amelia Earhart's personal belongings
to the headquarters of the women's Ninety-Nines. Cleo served as
the ambassador of the
Long Beach chapter of the Niney-Nines. When scrapbooks belonging
to Amelia Earhart were discovered in Long Beach, Cleo had the
honor of flying the scrapbooks to Will Rogers Field (now named
"Will Rogers World Airport") which serves Oklahoma City,
Oklahoma where the Ninety-Nines organization is headquartered.
"As she made that flight, she felt as though Amelia was sitting
right beside her," Randy said. "It was a high point
in her life."
A very attractive woman, Cleo was the photographic subject of
many reporters’ cameras. She flew professionally and competitively
for nearly a decade, sometimes flying airplanes for Piper Aircraft,
Co. from the East Coast to California. Her aviation prowess led
to many trophies, loving cups, media attention, and meetings with
politicians and dignitaries, such as the famous comedian Bob Hope.
Most importantly, however, Cleo was a loving mother of three,
and is missed by all whose lives she touched.