Unforgettable birthday gift takes wing for woman

Mary McKean

At 92 years young, Mary McKean remains part daring, part inquisitive.

The Auburn woman also happens to carry some semblance of a “bucket list.”

The fact she never had flown in a small airplane caught the attention of family and friends who gave her a belated birthday present on a sunny and clear Wednesday – a loop around majestic Puget Sound at 2,000 feet.

“Wow,” McKean said upon touching down after the hour-long flight as co-pilot to noble commander Shawn Pratt, a 20-year veteran of the friendly skies. “It was really wonderful.”

The excursion says something about McKean, a quiet, fit and petite woman who has the gusto to wander into the scattered clouds at her age. While wing-walking isn’t exactly next on her to-do list, she paused for a moment to consider such a wild idea after circling the Sound from the front seat of a Piper Warrior.

Perhaps bungee jumping?

“Well,” daughter Kathy White noted, “I would call her a daredevil.

“She knows how to have fun. She’s so easy to take. She’s game for anything.”

A retired bookkeeper who spent most of her life in Hoquiam, McKean continues to stay active despite being slowed by advancing time. An eight-year resident of River Mobile Estates, she gets around with the help of many friends and the use of a walker. She sews, knits and enjoys bridge. She belonged to church and service groups. She is a mother of two, grandmother of four and great-grandmother of two more.

She has traveled to Hawaii and Europe, enjoyed the fruits of family and continued to try new things – even after the passing of her husband, Rod, 12 years ago.

But flying always has caught her fancy.

“Every time we came by (Auburn Municipal) Airport, she talked about these small planes,” White said. “She always talked about wanting to go up in one.

“She always has been a curious person. She always wanted to find out about things.”

Those things included small planes, the right size for small people.

Friends huddled – and through the generous support of HomeWell Senior Care and other sponsors – Proud Mary got an unexpected surprise.

“We weren’t going to sit around and watch cooking shows,” said Pat Rannow, McKean’s caregiver from HomeWell, who suggested the plane trip. “This is what we wanted to do.”

The group celebrated earlier with a cake courtesy of Top Food & Drug. The cake, of course, adorned a small yellow airplane. She received a manicure from Exotic Nails and a corsage from Buds & Blooms. Brewer Chrysler also offered to escort her to the airport.

“I was real pleased,” McKean said. “Certainly it’s the most unusual and wonderful (present) I ever had.”

McKean always wanted to fly and see things from a clearly different perspective.

“I like to be closer to the ground so I could see everything,” she added.

Pratt was more than willing to accommodate McKean. Equipped with radio headset, she sat comfortably in the front seat and caught a first-class view of the Enumclaw Plateau, Lake Tapps, Mount Rainier, Commencement Bay, the Narrows Bridges, the network of islands and the Green River Valley. She watched in splendor as big jets soared under and over her as Pratt crossed Sea-Tac’s heavily

trafficked airway. She watched in wonder as Pratt turned the plane low over downtown Auburn before softly kissing the runway.

“Glad I could do it for her,” said Pratt, vice president and chief flight instructor for Northwest Aviation College, which specializes in shaping pilots, both young and old. “I love doing it.”

Throughout the flight, McKean sat quietly, in awe of it all.

“It was more, more (than what I expected),” she said. “It was exciting.”

A thrilling ride for a daredevil willing to try new things.

Mark Klaas can be reached at 253-833-0218, ext. 5050, or


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