Queen Lear, out lady of perpetual motion, flies into the room on patent leather pumps.
She is 66, in purple and heather, with lavender eyeshadow, a diamond as big as a lug nut and a gold airplane lapel pin winging toward the silverblue clouds of her hair. She is Moya, the merry widow of Learjet inventor William Powell Lear. For 36 years, she sat in the wings; doing needlepoint, baking bread, raising four kids and forgiving her maverick husband's many love affairs.
Now, she is chairman of the board of the Reno-based LearAvia Corp., having flown in the face of corporate doubters and against the advice of her own children who said it couldn't be done. Doubters who said Moya Lear, the wife who once considered suicide rather than life without her husband, would never be able to fulfill Bill Lear's dying wish and complete his last design: the Lear Fan 2100.
"'Finish it, "Mommy."' Those were his last words," she says in her husky, Lauren Bacall voice. "The word around the aviation community was, 'Well, there it goes, down the drain without Lear.'"
Bill Lear -- inventor, industrialist, multimillionaire and holder of 150 patents, including the car radio and the eight-track stereo -- died of leukemia three years ago at the age of 75. The Lear Fan 2100 was his last pet project, a revolutionary composite plastic executive jet plane powered by two gas turbine engines that turn a single four-bladed propeller in the rear. It would seat eight, cruise at 400 mph (100 miles faster than its nearest competitor), get 12 miles to the gallon and consume about one-third as much fuel as a Learjet.
Here was a woman who had never learned to balance her checkbook. A women who probably thought Beechcraft was a swimsuit designer, who called herself a "geishe girl." Four children. Eleven grandchildren. A woman got airsick the first time she went up in a plane. Who was she kidding?
"I had courage," she says, sitting in her Watergate Hotel room on a recent visit to Washington. "I had tenacity. He said, 'Mom, be sure that airplane project goes forward.' There wasn't anything else in the world I could do. That's what kept me going. Because he wanted me to do that. I said I'll give it my best shot."
Not only did Moya Lear finish the Lear Fan, she's already sold 198 of the "fresh air taxis" (as she calls them) for $1.6 million each. Deliveries on the lightweight corporate plane are expected to take place late next year.
As for Moya Lear, she flys commercial.
Can you stand it?
"Honey, do you know that to fly from Reno to Las Vegas is $2,000!," she says, her brown eyes wider than the wingspan of a 747. "That's a lot of money. I'm too practical to maintain an airplane and pay a crew." She smiles. "I hate to disillusion you."
Moya Lear is smiling a lot now. Somewhere up there, "Daddy Bill" must be smiling, too.
"We had a lot to laugh about," she says.
Did they really name one of their children Shanda?
She lets out a throaty laugh. "Yeees. My father said if you have a girl, her name has to be Shanda. S-H-A-N-D-A. Shanda Lear. And if it's a boy, you name it Gonda and if you're not sure, it's Lava."
Moya Olsen was 23 when she met Bill Lear, 13 years her senior and thrice divorced. It was backstage at the Winter Garden in New York. She was typing a script for her father, vaudeville comedian Ole ("Hellzapopin'") Olsen. "It wasn't exactly love at first sight," she says, "because I met so many of my father's friends and he was just another friend." "
That was September 1938. On Christman Eve, Bill Lear came Back and asked Moya Olsen out for a drink. She had never had a drink before. She said yes.
"We went to the Stork Club. It doesn't exist anymore. In those days it was the BIG place to go. I was so impressed."
She drank a glass of Liebfraumilch and held his hand in the taxi going home. "I never took my hand away," she says softly.
The happiest day of her life, she says, was their wedding day. They led a charmed, nomadic lifestyle from Ohio to Michigan, California, Switzerland and Kansas. William P. Lear, with an eight-grade education, founded Lear in 1932; by the end of World War II it had grown to a $40-million-a-year operation.
When Bill Lear became the first private pilot to fly into Russia, Moya Lear was beside him. He would coax her into taking a short hop from Grand Rapids to St. Louis to calibrate the autopilot, and wind up hours later in Manhattan.
In 1963 he invented the first private jet, which bore his name and became a symbol of wealth, power and prestige. But he had insufficient funds to produce the Learjet, so in 1967 he sold the design to Gates Rubber Co. for $27 million.
The next year they moved to Reno, where Bill Lear was to spend nearly 10 years of his life and $15 million of his own money developing a steampowered automobile which eventually ran out of steam.
Bill Lear was a ladies's man, she says. "Not a playboy, but he was very outgoing. And he loved to dance and tell stories, and he loved pretty girls. Not only me."
Yes, she says, there were other women. "Lots of them," she says.
But Moya Lear has a theory about that. It's a song, from "South Pacific," called "Nothing Like a Dame." She changes "she" to "he," leans forward in her chair and sings in a warbly voice:
"So supposin' he ain't bright or completely free from flaws,
Nor as faithful as a bird dog or as kind as Santa Claus.
It's a waste of time to worry over things that he is not . . ."
"Girls make waaaaay too much of that, I think," she says. "I tell all these gals who are married to attractive men, if you think they're attractive, don't forget you aren't the only one. and if you marry that man, you're going to have that to cope with and you better learn how to do it."
Of course, not every husband tells his wife. Bill Lear did.
"Yes, unfortunately," she says. "He'd wake up in the morning and say, 'Goddam, I did it again.' They have to unload. I finally said, 'Honey, don't tell me about it unless it's important for me to know."
She leans forward in her motherly mode, and says, "Honey, remember that, if you ever fall in love with someone. It might happen. It might be a flirt. And if he comes home to you and loves you and wants that home secure and solid, don't be tough on that kind of thing because you could destroy a whole marriage."
She "filled in the cracks," she says, with needlepoint, one of which lists the names of several girlfriends and ex-wives under the heading Ah, L'AMOUR. On the bottom, she stitched the phrase: Some I've Forgoten, Some I Didn't Know.
Yes, Moya Lear may have been the first Total Woman.
"I was his geisha girl. I was his squaw. There was none of this cuckoo business about 50-50 at all. It was 90-10, as far as taking care of him, making sure he was all right."
She says she never had affairs. "I just loved him. That's my problem now. I suppose you could say I'm an old-fashioned girl."
No, Moya Lear will never be on the cover of Ms. Magazine. Never be held up by feminist as a leader of women's lib in the aviation industry. Moya Lear cocks her head, inquisitively.
"What's feminism?" she says.
Frankie Welch, the Alexandria, Va., designer, has known Moya Lear for the last 15 years. The first lady of aviation is, in fact, one of Welch's best customers.
"She and Bill were going to South America one time and she came to town and ran into my store, saying she had to have some clothes for the trip," says Welch, who has recently designed a special red, white and blue Lear FAN scarf and canvas tote bag for Moya Lear's customers. "'Well,' she said, 'I want to get off the plane and hear everyone say that Moya Lear is dressed in truly American fashion. So she bought some Halston Ultrasuedes, and a few other things, and a few days later I received a telegram from her. It said, 'Frankie! It worked!' Sure enough, that's what everyone said."
On Lear's recent trip to Washington, to judge a contest for Professional Pilot magazine, she stopped into Welch's store and bought several dresses and a few sportswear outfits. Welch also designed the dress Moya Lear wore to the inaugural ball.
"She's so fabulous ," says the designer. "Not only her clothes, but her mind. She says she dresses for the plant as if she was walking down Fifth Avenue."
Moya also dropped in that day to see old friend Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz). Will the senator be buying a Lear Fan?
"I don't have that much money," Goldwater says. "I couldn't even buy the gasoline ".
Moya Lear, says Goldwater, "is ideal. She's just a perfect woman. She has a wonderful disposition, a cheerful disposition. And besides, any woman who could put up with Bill Lear had to have a sense of humor."
Moya Lear is a close friend of the Justin Darts, members of Ronald and Nancy Reagan's inner circle. "I think she [Lear] contributes a great deal to the Republican Party," says Frankie Welch. In fact, Moya Lear is a member of the "Eagles," says her secretary, which means she contributes at least $10,000 a year to Republican coffers.
Does she know the Reagans?
"I don't think so," says Welch. "And it's a shame for them ".
Moya Lear usually rises by 6:30 a.m. at her 55-acre ranch outside Reno and drives her white Mercedes 280L License plates: MOYA) to the nearby LearAvia Corp. plant.
"I toot both plants," she says. "Toot toot, toot toot. I got a Maserati horn. Than I go up to the office."
This was his office, and this is where she came when he died.
"Billy only had two months of illness. It was so devastating. When they said leukemia, we knew he was going, and I knew I was going, too. Because we were not only married for 36 years, we were in love for 40. We were very close."
After his death, she says, "I was ready to do away with myself. I was all ready with enough sleeping pills to kill an elephant. There was no life for me without him. The next day, after I lost him, I went to the plant because I had to go someplace. I sat down at his desk. And I felt comfortable there. I felt him there. It was truly a love affair. So to fill my days and my life with that airplane was simply a continuity of him." t
When Lear first became ill, he had ordered changes in his will so his estate would finance his last design: the Lear Fan. Two of Lear's children went to court to challenge the changes made in the will.
"My daughters were convinced that this airplane would not be built without their father," says Moya Lear. "In all fairness to them, they had no frame of reference. Because they had seen their mother in the capacity of wife, and keeping the coffie pot hot and handing him the pliers. It didn't hurt me, but it was surprising. When I kept at it, I expected them to say, 'Go, Mom. Do it.' It was sad."
The lawsuit, she says, "is just something we'll have to work out."
Murray Smith, publisher of Professional Pilot Magazine, tells the story of Moya Lear addressing a recent press conference on the Lear Fan in White Plains, N.Y.
"It was really terrific," says Smith. "She stood up there and said, 'I suppose you think I developed the Lear Fan to prove the woman are just as good as men. That's not the reason. I suppose you think it's because I think the Lear Fan is the greatest airplane in the world. It isn't. You want to know why I'm doing this? Because I thoroughly loved Bill Lear.'"
When she first took over the company, there were money problems. But then, the British government provided $50 million in loans and grants for LearAvia's promise to build a new manufacturing plant outside Belfast. Oppenheimer & Co. in New York raised $30 million more. The employes at LearAvia had buttons made up, saying "Finish it".
While a lot of Lear Fans have been sold, the airplane has yet to prove itself. "There are a lot of unknowns," says Murray Smith. He compared the Lear Fan's plastic body to that of a telephone. "They don't know how it will do in a lightning storm. They don't know how it will work in precipitation. It might be terrific. I don't know how your telephone might work moving through the air at 400 mph in a rain storm".
Still, Moya Lear has hit the lecture tour, promoting the new aircraft to audiences from NASA and MIT, luncheons and conventions, press conferences and interviews.
"Wait till you see the plane," she says. "It's really sexy ".
As for Moya Lear, she'll go on as long as it takes. She's a trouper, friends say. And on her tombstone, she laughs, will be her epitaph: "She Finished It."