“If I don’t get out of this house, I’ll go nuts,” she said.
“Why don’t just get in your plane and fly around the world?” her husband replied.
“All right,” she said. “I will.”
Jerrie Mock, an Ohio housewife who was tired of cooking meals and washing dishes for her husband and three children, spent the next two years planning her flight. On April 17, 1964, after 29 days and 23,000 miles, she returned to her home airport in Columbus as the first woman to fly solo around the world.
She succeeded where Amelia Earhart, her childhood idol, had died trying. Flying a single-engine Cessna 180 with a 36-foot wingspan, Ms. Mock extinguished a potential on-board fire, endured icing on her wings and, most of all, overcame the doubts of people who couldn’t imagine that a 5-foot-tall woman dubbed “the flying housewife” could pull off a feat of aviation that had never been accomplished.
Ms. Mock, who was 88, died Sept. 30 at her home in Quincy, Fla. Her sister, Susan Reid, said she did not know the cause.
Ms. Mock’s 26-foot-long Cessna, which she called the Spirit of Columbus, hangs at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. After she circled the globe, she was awarded a gold medal by President Lyndon B. Johnson at a White House ceremony and appeared on the “Today Show” and on the television panel show “To Tell the Truth.”
Her achievement occurred during the early years of the space race, months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Beyond a cadre of aviation enthusiasts, Ms. Mock’s circumnavigation has gone largely unnoticed.
“Other women had attempted this before, including Amelia Earhart,” Dorothy Cochrane, a curator at the Air and Space Museum, said Wednesday. “She was an independent person flying alone. She wasn’t well known in aviation at the time. It just never caught on.”
Ms. Mock had been a licensed pilot for only six years when she took off on March 19, 1964. She had never flown over an ocean before and made her first landing by instrument while on her round-the-world flight.
As her Cessna became airborne, she overheard the traffic controllers saying, “Well, I guess that’s the last we’re going to hear from her.”
Geraldine Lois Fredritz was born in Newark, Ohio, on Nov. 22, 1925. Her father worked for a power company.
When she was 7, young Jerrie — no one ever called her by her formal name — took a short ride in airplane and declared that she would become a pilot. While studying geography in school, she said she was going to travel around the world.
She followed Earhart’s flights on radio and was 11 when the renowned pilot disappeared over the Pacific in 1937.
Ms. Mock studied aeronautical engineering at Ohio State University before getting married in 1945. Her husband, Russell Mock, worked in advertising and was a licensed pilot. She began flying in 1956 and received her license two years later.
“I guess I was a women’s libber before it was popular,” Ms. Mock told the Columbus Dispatch in 1994. “Women were often laughed at around the airports. In today’s lifestyle, you might say they were harassed, but we didn’t dare say that then. That would have made it worse.”
During the planning for her round-the-world flight, Ms. Mock and her husband came to Washington and visited embassies, arranging for clearances to enter air space and use airports from Cairo to Calcutta to Bangkok. She plotted her route with maps and a globe at her dining-room table.
When she learned that another female pilot, Joan Merriam Smith, was attempting a similar flight, Ms. Mock moved up the date of her departure by two weeks. Smith took off from Oakland, Calif., on March 17, two days before Ms. Mock.
While testing the Cessna, Ms. Mock’s husband discovered oil spraying the engine. They found that someone had sabotaged the plane, replacing a new oil filter with a faulty one.
Once Ms. Mock was in the air, she found that her long-range radio was dead. Only after she landed in Bermuda did she learn that someone had deliberately disconnected the wires.
Meanwhile, newspapers covered her flight and Smith’s as if they were in competition — which, of course, they were. Ms. Mock’s husband, speaking to her at each stop by telephone, urged her to fly faster.
Whenever Ms. Mock stopped at an airport en route, she slipped on a pair of heels before stepping on the runway for the cameras. Because she could not afford the extra space or weight of a suitcase, she wore the same outfit for all 29 days: “A blue skirt and jacket, my white drip-dry blouse I had just bought, a pearl necklace, hose and heels,” her sister recalled.
In Egypt, Ms. Mock mistakenly landed at a secret military installation and was briefly detained. In Saudi Arabia, soldiers searched her plane for a male pilot. When the onlookers finally realized that she was the pilot, they burst into applause.
Ms. Mock returned to Columbus after 29 days, 11 hours, 59 minutes. The official distance of her flight, according to the Air and Space Museum, was 23,103 miles.
It took Smith — who died in a plane crash in 1965 — 57 days to complete her flight.
In spite of her reluctance to appear before the public, Ms. Mock took on many speaking engagements to repay her sponsors. In 1970, she wrote a book about her flight, “Three-Eight Charlie” — her plane’s tail number, which has recently been republished.
Flying a new Cessna 206, Ms. Mock set more than 20 records for speed and distance from 1965 to 1969 and once flew a jet fighter at more than 1,000 mph.
But the expense of maintaining an airplane became too much. Ms. Mock made a final flight to New Guinea, where she donated her Cessna to a humanitarian group and then retreated from the public eye.
“I’d rather go to an island where there are no phones or TV,” she said, “and never talk to anyone again.”
She and her husband were divorced in 1979. After living around the country for several years, she settled in Florida in 1992.
Her sons, Gary Mock and Roger Mock, died in 1990 and 2007, respectively.
Survivors include a daughter, Valerie Armentrout of Columbus; her sister; 12 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.
Ms. Mock often said she didn’t consider her flight remarkable, “just lots of fun.”
“Dozens of women, both in the United States and other countries, could have done it before I did,” she told Air & Space magazine this year. “Just nobody else had the sense — or shall I say, the stupidity — to try it.”