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Susan Murphy
Susan Murphy
Susan Murphy talks about an experience she had working with Jimmy Hoffman, a local bush pilot and hero to many people. She also explains the importance of pilots in bush communities and how they became an inspiration to children.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2011-27-03

Project: Bethel Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Jan 25, 1996
Narrator(s): Susan Murphy
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
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Working with Jimmy Hoffman

Importance of the bush pilot

Pilots are heroes

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Susan Murphy: To me this is the bush pilots. It's about one of the pilots that we're dedicated to tonight. It's Jimmy Hoffman.

Back in the winter of 1960, I worked for NCL. And I was the youngest person who worked there so I got all the choice assignments like 6:00 AM Saturday morning and 6:00 AM Sunday morning until 9 or 10 Saturday night.

Whenever nobody wanted to work I got the job. I was the radio operator and kind of kept the office going when nobody was around.

Well this one day the weather was just awful. It was miserable. It was the middle of winter. It was snowing.

The visibility was really poor and nobody was in the office but me. And we got a call in from Goodnews Bay that Joe Jean, who was a miner down there, an old timer, was hurt and needed to come out.

And so I called Jimmy at home and he said, "Well, I'll be down." He got in the plane and he flew down to Goodnews and nobody else was flying.

Nobody. None of the other airlines. He got down to Goodnews and started coming back.

And he called in, he says, "Susan, sing to me." I said, "Jimmy," now my voice has been known to curdle milk it's that bad.

My children say, "don't sing to me grandma" or mama. "It's really bad." He says, "I need somebody to talk to me, sing to me, tell me stories, something."

So I sang to Jimmy and I talked to Jimmy and eventually he got in and landed on the river in front of town and just before he got in he said, "Now I need a car down here to pick me up and pick up Joe."

And he did and he said, "Now I don't want you to go around telling everybody about the wonderful job I did."

I said, "Oh, I won't, I won't." I lied through my teeth. I told everybody. But that's, to me, that story is the way the bush pilots were.

Cause I grew up with them and they were always there when we needed them.

They flew packages of Christmas presents into Marshall at 10 o'clock Christmas Eve, so kids could have Christmas.

They would bring ice cream to us in the villages. They've been known to go stop at the store and buy comics for kids.

They flew medicine, they delivered babies, they carried all the gossip up and down the river.

In the really early days they would tell you what the price of mink was in McGrath and what the price of beaver was somewhere else.

Who had a baby and who was getting married. And what happened to this old timer that left town.

But they were -- they were our friends and they were our saviors and they were comedians and I'm glad, I'm glad that we did this... Audience member: Heroes...

Susan Murphy: Heroes. They were our heroes. And I think those of us who grew up up here really know what heroes they were. Even more so than people who came in, in later years.

Cause, they used to stay at our house, heat their oil on our oil stoves, and fix their planes... Audience member: And they were flying without navigational aids.

Susan Murphy: Yes, flying without navigational aids, buzzing the house to let you know they were coming in. There are others that weren't named but are from that same era, like Sunny Marsh and we named Jimmy and Ray.

They're the old timers like Tony Schultz and Nat Brown... Diane Carpenter: Jackie Smeeten Susan Murphy: Jackie Smeeten.

And as I said, they were our heroes and all the little boys and all the little girls wanted to be pilots just like them. I think some of us still do. Diane Carpenter: Yes, thank you.