She has been married to the same man for 50 years and has been doing the same job for 25 years.
Lee celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with her husband, Larry, on June 25. Family and friends attended a reception in their honor at Musgrove Country Club on July 3.
Both were born in Alabama but didn’t meet and fall in love until their families moved to Michigan. They have one son, Mike.
Lee started working as a flight attendant after Mike married his wife, Laurie. She was 43 years old at the time.
“I had a neighbor who was in reservations. They did a lot of pass riding. I thought, ‘Wow, free travel.’ So I applied with Eastern (Air Lines) and was hired in reservations,” Lee said.
One day shortly after that, Larry Lee noticed a want ad in the Sunday newspaper for flight attendants who would be guaranteed to be based in Atlanta.
“I never saw that before or since with any airline,” Lee said.
She attended an open house and was hired.
Lee is currently working for American Airlines, where she has been for 20 years. She is based in Miami and flies internationally to London, Paris and Madrid.
She said she prefers long flights to Europe and deep South America, such as São Paul, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. Her favorite cities are Rio for its shopping and London because of its theater. Ironically, she has never found time for her dream trip to the Emerald Isle.
“I started flying so I could go to Ireland and haven’t made it yet,” Lee said.
American Airlines allows her enough flexibility to drop trips if necessary, which she had to do several times while caring for her mother, Bessie Ratcliffe, until her death in March.
Even getting to work requires Lee to fly. Recently, American Airlines added a route for a regional jet that she can take from Birmingham directly to Miami.
“You have to fly to work just like you would drive to work, only it’s more stressful and it takes longer,” Lee said.
The events of Sept. 11 had a profound effect on flight attendants like Lee. Her sisters in uniform were among the first to die that day. Many people quit their jobs on the spot after they heard the news. Others left because they couldn’t handle the mental stress.
“Prior to that, terrorism was just terrorists trying to get from point A to B, some place like Havana where we don’t normally fly. After that, you’re a little more wary,” Lee said.
In 25 years, Lee has only had three near-misses on flights, one of which required an emergency landing.
Lee has many wonderful memories from her years as a flight attendant.
Once she fell asleep in the downstairs of an antique shop in London and woke up afraid that she had missed her flight. Last fall, she went on a walking tour in London on Halloween of Jack the Ripper murder sites.
She has also made many wonderful friends who enjoy sharing the details of the soap opera that is their lives each time they fly together.
“It’s a job that you don’t want to retire from,” Lee said.