I have never understood why women are frequently referred to as the "weaker sex." Perhaps my questioning of the term stems from being around many strong women over the years.

I have never understood why women are frequently referred to as the “weaker sex.” Perhaps my questioning of the term stems from being around many strong women over the years.

“Strong” and “weaker” does not describe how many pounds someone may bench press in a gym, but the strength of their character, spirit and calmness, based on my observations.

My first encounter with a strong-willed woman was my paternal grandmother. Surrender was not a word in her vocabulary. She has kind, yet firm. Very firm.

Probably the next one was a beautiful woman who was a school teacher. Her husband, Bill, was on the Bataan Death March, the forced transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war in the Philippines early in World War II.

An estimated 5,000–10,000 Filipino and 600–650 American prisoners of war died of disease, lack of food and water, beatings, shootings and beheading before they could complete the 80-mile forced march. The Japanese commander was later convicted of war crimes and executed.

The teacher raised their two daughters, taught high school business and typing, and ran the family business with unmatched grace. Bill was unable to communicate with most individuals and depended on his wife for all but the simplest of decisions.

The day after I turned 18, I encountered a woman named Flossie in her late 60s or early 70s (I was afraid to ask). She was a veteran newspaper reporter and assigned the task of keeping an eye on “the kid” seated at the next desk.

When she spoke, I listened. I learned more from her in a matter of months than from two years of college journalism classes. Her sense of humor and the .32-caliber pearl-handled revolver in her purse probably added to her newsroom reputation. I noticed the city editor did not trifle with Flossie.

Last week I read several stories about an 80-year-old woman with courage, a unique calmness and little flying experience who realized her husband had died after he fell unconscious at the controls of their small plane, yet landed the twin-engine Cessna at a Wisconsin airport.

Her son, James Collins, who is also a pilot, helped his mother, Helen Collins by radio as the plane began running out of gas. Another pilot took to the skies to guide her to a landing.

The son was quoted as saying his mother took lessons to take off and land about 30 years ago at her husband’s urging in case of an in-air emergency, but never obtained her license. She has flown hundreds of hours at her husband’s side.

At one point she said she didn’t want a pilot to escort her to the airport.

“She said, ‘Don’t you guys think I could do this on my own? Don’t you have confidence in me?’ She had it totally under control,” the son told reporters.

Calmness under that kind of pressure is the mark of a strong individual.

James Collins said his mother knew her husband had died.

One of the engines ran out of gas while she was at the controls and the fuel supply was almost exhausted because the second engine was sputtering.

The nose-wheel collapsed on landing and she skidded down the runway about 1,000 feet, but she worked the rudder pedals to keep the plane straight, the son said, adding few pilots could land on one engine. She sustained an injury to her back and a cracked rib in the landing.

That’s strength, not weakness, under pressure.

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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.