Mrs. Frances Grondin
As a child Frances Grondin belonged to the Wing Scouts, a group that allowed her to learn a few things about aviation. She kept looking up at the sky and watching the planes go by - thinking “Someday I'm getting up there”.
From the age of twelve her father would take her to the airport to watch the airplanes land. In one occasion her father arranged for her to take a little flight, when she came down he asked her what she had thought about the flight, “I'm going to fly someday” said Grondin. When she was in her teens she had various uncles in all the branches of the service but none in the air force, “…but they had friends in the air force and they knew of my interested so if they could they would get a wings patch or something and they would send it to me” says Grondin “and I would sew it on my sweatshirt.”
Born in Weston Massachusetts, Frances Grondin's first career was as a nurse. She graduated at Memorial Hospital School and went on to pre-med studies where she met her husband, a doctor doing his training in surgery. “We decided at one point that one doctor in the family might be enough” laughs Grondin. From there, she followed him to Philadelphia and to Rochester, New York for his training, finally returning to settle in Moncton N.B., a place close to home, as he is a Grand Falls native.
“After I married and moved to Moncton, I decided at one point that I would see if I could take flying lessons at the Moncton Plane club”. She received her private pilot license in 1960, then went back for her commercial course and got her commercial pilot's license in 1966 – the first female to get commercial pilot's license at the Moncton Flight College.
When she got her commercial license, her parents came to visit. “Father didn't like to go up in airplanes, but my mother went with me,” laughs Grondin. “She thought it was great!”
She decided her pilot licenses wouldn't be something she would use for employment, though her classmates wanted her to apply to aviation companies “With my name being Frances, they thought most companies would not be able to identify that I was a female pilot – and at that time the aviation companies just didn't hire female pilots,” laughs Grondin. Recreationally she flew all over the Maritimes and to Massachusetts to visit her folks and eventually owned an aircraft of her own. “It was a Piper Cherokee 140,” says Grondin, “one of the training planes of the club – I was flying and having a ball”.
After having four children, she wanted to improve her education so she applied to the Université de Moncton to get a bachelor of nursing. “They didn't want to credit a lot of my courses” says Grondin, “So I said ok, I'll do a Bachelor of Arts instead”. While doing her BA she took a French immersion course which lead her a few years later to apply to law school at Université de Moncton.
During the time she was doing recreational flying, her application to law school was accepted, so she completed her law degree, graduated in 1982 and sold the aircraft. She continued her interest in aviation by becoming a free lance journalist for a newspaper in Moncton in the 1970's. “It was a male - oriented newspaper – as most things were back then – story of my life, it seems like every time I turned around I was involved in something that seem to be more and more male oriented,” recalls Grondin.
Grondin has had to overcome a few challenges when following her goals. “A lot of boys at the fly school thought that I was looking for something else other than flying and I said, ‘Look boys if I got tenderloin at home , I'm not going to take hamburger here!.' There was an insinuation that if you were the only female student there you were looking for something else besides flying. There were a few flight instructors who believed women should be bare foot and pregnant and not flying. Those instructors and I locked horns and I won, ” “ laughs Grondin . , “I said ‘little Italian women don't take this lightly'”.
Grondin credits her father for a lot of her confidence and strength. “He was instrumental in giving me the confidence I needed to try anything I wanted to try, and to not see any restriction in being male or female,” says Grondin. “‘If you're sure you're correct, stand your ground' he would say. Women have a tendency to back off when they come across prejudice and discrimination – don't -
"You have to have somebody that opens the door and then it's up to the next generation to go through."
Mrs. Grondin believes that the key to success in anything is to focus, to give it one hundred percent, “…and when you have reached your goal, you have to like what you're doing; if not, move on. The way I always approached things,” Grondin explains, “if I got to a wall, I would try to go over it, around it if I was strong enough, go through it, and if after all those efforts I couldn't, I would say: forget it, and try another wall.”
Mrs. Grondin's biggest piece of advice for anyone looking for a career in aviation is “Go for it!”
Currently there is a trophy named after Frances Grondin at the Moncton Flight College recognizing the most outstanding female pilot of the year. In 2012, the Frances Grondin Award was presented to Lauren Moore who currently works in Newfoundland as a commercial pilot.
On July 25 th , 2012, Mrs. Grondin will be eighty years old.
Thank you Mrs. Grondin for opening the door we're walking through.