Nicholas R. Cataldo (2002)
(Photographs from Pinky Brier's private collection)
Pinky Brier standing beside a "Tiger Cub"
Evelyn Pinckert Brier is a sparkling conversationalist with a radiating sense of humor. This petite woman, who everyone calls "Pinky" is also a living legend. Born on April 12, 1909 into a multi-talented family---her sister, Jeanne Dixon, was a well known astrologer and syndicated columnist; and her brother, Ernie Pinckert, was a football All-American half-back for USC, it seemed only natural that Pinky Brier would be destined for something extraordinary as well.
While working with Southern California Gas Company in San Bernardino in 1934, Pinky took flying lessons from her future husband and aviation partner, Lieutenant Joe Brier, who was stationed at March Air Force Base. The woman loved flying so much that she quit her job and trained for a transport pilot's license. In 1938, Pinky passed the CAA examination and became the first female flight instructor in the country.
Pinky with her husband Joe Brier, 1938
The following year Pinky and Joe bought Tri-City Airport, located southeast of San Bernardino, and made it their home. For the next 40 years they ran a flying school, had a restaurant, and transported passengers to and from all over the southwest. Eventually, the Briers expanded the airport grounds to 270 acres. Pinky recalled in a recent interview that the land encompassing today's Hospitality Lane "was part of the runway, more or less". During World War II, the U.S. military ordered that no passenger flights would be made within 150 miles inland from the Pacific coast.
So the Briers leased Tri-City Airport to Southwest Airways, a contract air freight carrier for the Army and moved into the remote Mojave Desert where they lived inside tents and could fly airplanes (using Soda Lake as a runway) as they wished. Pinky revealed that General Henry "Hap" Arnold sent a wire instructing her to report to Wilmington, Delaware. He was establishing the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) and that she would become the first female to enlist. However, rather than becoming another "first", Pinky preferred to stay with her beloved Joe (who would soon return to active duty) and never showed up. "Besides", as she recalled, "I never requested to go in the first place". The inseparable couple returned to Tri-City after the war's conclusion.
While Joe took care of the maintenance operations, Pinky served as a charter pilot for hire. She flew clients day or night, seven days a week, and frequently hustled passengers to LAX in order to catch east bound airliner flights. Occasionally, Pinky would fly into Los Angeles three times a day! Her favorite plane to fly was the Beechcraft Bonanza. "That was the best plane on the market", Pinky said.
Over the years she flew local businessmen like Milton "Uncle Miltie" Sage and Cleo Stater, as well as numerous contractors, gamblers, and relatives of accident victims to San Francisco, Phoenix, San Diego, or Las Vegas. Because of her incredible reputation, a number of well known celebrities and politicians called upon her for flights. People like Scientist Jane Goodall, CIA leader John McCone, and famed comedian Joe E. Brown, requested Pinky's service.
She also flew mystery writer, Earle Stanley Gardner, to some remote spots in the vast Mojave Desert. His books became the basis for the Perry Mason television series and in one of them, entitled "The Case of the Careless Cupid", he mentions Pinky as Mason's pilot. She was also mentioned in one of Gardner's nonfiction adventures called "The Desert is Yours".
Pinky's life long dream was for Tri-City to serve San Bernardino as a major international airport. Unfortunately, the city lost out to Ontario. In 1979, three years after Joe's death, Pinky sold the property to an Irvine-based development company. Pinky Brier then lived and maintained an office on Brier Drive in San Bernardino. [Pinky passed away on January 20, 2008]
Pinky in the Mojave Desert in the late 60's
Pinky at Christmas in 2005, 96 years young.
Don't grieve for me for now I'm free,