I had the pleasure of meeting the Johnson’s in 2008, when I was working on my book, Fujiyama Trays & Oshibori Towels. Herb flew during WWII and was a pilot for Northwest for 32 years before retiring in 1981. Merry Jo began flying for Northwest in 1949. Jo’s mother Pauline had grown up in Blackduck, Minnesota and had babysat for Mal Freeberg, a pioneer pilot for NWA who later became Chief Pilot and hired the first two stewardesses for the infant airline, Dorothy Stumpf and Virginia Johnson. They had kept in touch. Mal arranged an interview for Merry Jo and not only was she hired, she lived with Mal and Vi Freeberg during her training and for some time thereafter.
She and Herb met when he was co-pilot on one of her flights in January, 1950. They married in March, 1951 and became the first couple to continued to fly together (officially) after they married. NWA needed more stewardesses and figured they were saving on hotel room costs. Their arrangement was temporary and it was not common knowledge. The single-only rule for stewardesses was not discarded until the mid-1960s.
Jo and Herb founded a flying dynasty. Their son Scott has been a pilot for Northwest/Delta for nearly 29 years. His son Erik, Herb and Jo’s grandson, began flying for Mesaba (NWA)/in June, 2007 and continues to fly for Delta. Daughter Linda was a NWA customer service agent for 14 years, took the buyout at the merger and, having a degree in Corrections, is now pursuing her first love as a social worker at a half-way house for felons in St. Paul.
Sadly, Herb died March 16, 2013. Click here for his obituary. See Lady Skywriter Tribute. See also RNPA Contrails Magazine of February, 2008 for a great story about the Johnson family. Although it is not available online, if you don’t already subscribe, you can find a copy of Contrails at the NWA History Centre in Bloomington, Minnesota.
I spoke with Merry Jo today for an update on how the family is doing after Herb’s death. Scott bought the old farmstead where Herb grew up and where he lived when he worked for Northwest. They called Herb “the flying farmer” in his heyday and Scott is carrying on the tradition. Merry Jo has moved to Twin Rivers, a lovely retirement residence in Cannon Falls. She sounded great and loves her new home. She speaks to her kids almost daily, and reported that Scott and Erik would meet today at MSP between their respective flights. Linda, as reported above, is contentedly pursuing her corrections career.