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Mary Frances Silitch (1935–)

Mary Frances Files Silitch is the first woman to be editor-in-chief of a national aviation magazine. A licensed pilot, she has flown 250 kinds of aircraft and logged 5,000 hours of flight.

Mary Frances Files was born on November 9, 1935, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to William Thomas Files and Johnnie Caldwell Files of Parkdale (Ashley County); she has two sisters. Her first flight was in an open-cockpit crop-duster airplane over the family farm at the age of four. She attended schools in Parkdale and Wilmot (Ashley County) but graduated from All Saints Episcopal School in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She attended Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College), where she began her journalism career as the managing editor of the Sou’wester, the college’s newspaper. In 1957, she graduated with a degree in English. She worked for a real estate lawyer in Memphis, Tennessee, for three years, enrolling at Southern Law School, now the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law of the University of Memphis.

Files moved to New York in 1960 and worked for Mademoiselle, a Condé Nast publication, as assistant fiction editor. She was then hired as an editorial assistant at the Saturday Evening Post. From 1963 to 1965, she worked for McGraw-Hill Book Company of New York as a copyeditor. One of her friends mentioned that he was going to work for Flying magazine, and that the publication would pay for him to learn to fly. After communicating to the publication management about the grammar in their magazine, Files made her services available and landed a job. In 1965, she became the associate editor for Flying, which was published by Ziff Davis and billed as the “world’s most widely read aviation magazine.” She began taking flying lessons and earned her private pilot license. She later said, “I never had to look for a job in aviation again.” In New York, while working at Flying, she met, Nicholas Silitch, who lived on the same street. They were married in 1969. The couple has two sons.

In 1969, Silitch became executive editor of Air Progress magazine, another Condé Nast publication in New York. When Air Progress moved to California in 1974, she joined the National Pilots Association in Washington DC as editor of NPA News, serving also as director of communications and congressional liaison. In 1977, she became director of public relations of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), in Washington DC and editor of AOPA Newsletter and AOPA Airport Report; then she served as associate editor of AOPA Pilot magazine, executive director of Seaplane Pilots Association, and editor of Water Flying magazine.

In 1982, while at AOPA, she earned two of the Aviation/Space Writers Association’s national awards for best magazine article. By the 1980s, she had earned her multi-engine ratings at Washington National Airport, her instrument rating at Dulles International Airport, and her seaplane rating on Long Island Sound. She also received safety commendations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1982, the Minnesota Department of Aeronautics in 1986, and the Seaplane Pilots Association. On March 22, 1985, she set a world speed record for light turbine amphibians in the Soloy-converted Cessna 206 floatplane.

In 1987, Silitch became the first woman editor-in-chief of a major aviation magazine when she assumed this title at Private Pilot magazine in Irvine, California. She was responsible for the planning, editing, and production of a 100-page, full-color monthly publication. In 1993, she was named Pilot of the Year by the Orange County, California, chapter of the Ninety-Nines and by the Ninety-Nines Southwest Section.

In 1994, Silitch became editor-in-chief at Professional Pilot magazine in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1996, she became a contributing editor and writer for Aviation International News and Convention News. In 2006, shereceived the top journalism award of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). She is the first woman to win the NBAA Platinum Wing Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism Excellence.

On October 28, 2010, Silitch was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame with James “Bud” Mars and Brigadier General Paul Douglas Jr. As of 2011, Silitch and her husband live in North Granville in upstate New York. She is secretary of the Granville Democratic Committee and of the Slate Valley Garden Club and is a member of the board of trustees of Granville’s Pember Library and Museum of Natural History.

For additional information:
Demuth, Erin. “Local Woman Honored for Aviation Journalism.” Post-Star, December 3, 2006. Online at http://poststar.com/news/local/article_0b0c711b-5e29-5ac5-a116-a5483ccdb1a7.html (accessed April 22, 2011).

Moyers, David. “Aviation Hall of Fame to Induct Parkdale Native Mary Files Silitch.” Ashley County Ledger, October 13, 2010, p. 1.

Edmond Davis
Arkansas Baptist College

Last Updated 7/29/2011

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