- North Shore Stories: An Evening of Community Storytelling at North Vancouver City Library tonight at 7 p.m.
IF you arrived for your scheduled flight and saw that your pilot was female, would you: A) Assume if the company had hired her she was as qualified as a male pilot, B) Be wary and prefer a male pilot or C) Refuse to fly.
"Can you imagine that today?" says Deep Cove author Kucki Low with a laugh as she recounts the story of how she was hired as the first female commercial airline pilot in South Africa.
It was the 1970s, and Low was being considered for a job as a pilot, but first the airline polled its passengers to gauge their possible reaction. For three months, the airline handed out a questionnaire with those three questions. At the end of the survey, only one male passenger had responded he would refuse to fly with a female pilot.
Despite the lone objector's comment that a woman's place was behind a stove, Low was hired by the small airline and spent more than two years as a commercial pilot.
"It was wonderful. I had fabulous experiences with it," she says.
Low will try to encapsulate the highlights of her journey from flying in South Africa to moving to Canada in a 10-minute talk at the North Shore Stories event on Sept. 28, as part of Culture Days, which runs until Sept. 30.
She notes that establishing herself in a new country was a challenge, but by that point she was no stranger to challenges.
Low's grandparents immigrated from Germany to what was then German South West Africa in 1932. Her parents moved to Namibia in 1953, but never really felt happy there, she says. They preferred Germany and spoke German at home, so Low says she always felt like she had one foot in Namibia, one foot in Germany, and never quite at home in either.
Low's given name is Irmgard, which means tall and blond in German, but, as she admits with a laugh, she is only five-foot-one so the name didn't fit. Instead, she was called Kucki (pronounced cookie) thanks to a nickname from her younger brother.
At age 15, she left school to help her father in his photography business after he had his first heart attack. By the time she was 19, both her parents had passed away. The business was sold to her uncle and Low went to Germany to attend photography school. She later returned to Namibia to help again at the family photography business.
Her first week back, Low's uncle asked her to take some aerial photographs. It was her first time flying in a small, fourseater plane.
"I was just totally blown away by flying. It was such an exhilarating feeling for me," she says. "And it completely paled in comparison to photography for me."
The experience inspired her to pursue her private pilot's licence.
"And then I said I have to figure out a way to get paid for what I love to do."
Unfortunately, having left school at 15, Low didn't have the math and science education she needed to pass the written examination for a commercial pilot's license.
"I didn't have the qualifications to pass the written exams for the pilot's licence. I was OK with the flying, but the written was a challenge," she notes.
Low was determined, however, and worked her way through a home-study course.
The first time she took the written exam she failed miserably.
But, she says, "I had such a burning desire to become a pilot."
So Low took the course again, and explains that a program that would probably take most people a few months to complete, she did in two years.
"But I did it," she reports. "Walking out of the exams the second time I just knew I passed."
She was elated and says she felt an immense sense of achievement.
"I had this incredible passion and dream for flying and I just knew with that dream I was given ability to somehow achieve it, it was just going to take a whole lot more hard work and determination."
Because she didn't have any money at that point and needed to accumulate 200 flying hours, she worked as an air hostess and a flying instructor. It was during this time she met her future husband, who was one of her students.
After she earned the flying hours she needed, and passed the airline questionnaire test, Low flew as a commercial airline pilot for more than two years.
When she became dissatisfied with the politics in South Africa, however, she and her husband began looking for a new home. In 1979, they moved to Deep Cove with their infant son. Low says she was pleased that her son would know Canada as his only home and not feel torn between two countries like she had as a child.
Unfortunately, it was too expensive for Low to re-do her licence in Canada and she hasn't sat in the pilot's seat since.
But establishing herself in a new country was a challenge, she notes, and she was busy making a new home with her husband and young son. She was also busy getting accustomed to her new surroundings, and recalls her first encounter with a raccoon that sat on a window ledge in her bedroom the first night she was home alone.
"I was terrified. I didn't know what to do," she recalls with a laugh.
Over the years, Low has dabbled in various businesses and other interests, and was eventually convinced to write down her life story in a book. Her son in particular often encouraged her to tell her amazing stories.
Low's book, This is Kucki Your Pilot Speaking, was published last year, and she found a new passion as an author and speaker.
"We have different passions in different stages in our lives," she says.
But Low's passion for flying still burns and she is considering taking the controls again soon, this time in a float plane.
Kucki Low will be speaking at North Shore Stories at North Vancouver City Library Friday, Sept. 28. Other speakers at the event include Mayor Darrell Mussatto, reporter and author