Emily Crombez, 32, who grew up in the Otterville area and first learned to fly planes at the Tillsonburg Regional Airport, was recognized Friday afternoon with a commemorative stamp from the East Canada Section of the Ninety-Nines, an international women’s aviation organization.
“Welcome to the place where it all began for me 17 years ago,” said Crombez, speaking on the Tillsonburg Regional Airport’s outdoor patio deck Friday to a group of friends, family and aviators gathered in safe social-distancing clusters on the grass below.
“I certainly have fond memories of rushing to the airport – in typical Emily fashion – which sometimes meant stranded in a tobacco field in my work clothes,” said Crombez. “I’m not sure how my parents got me here, mom working full-time and dad on the farmer’s schedule of dawn till dusk, but they always did. It’s safe to say that 15-year-old Emily, or 32-year-old Emily, didn’t think she’d ever be on a postage stamp.”
Her first flight instructor was Harvey Roddick, Retired Brigadier General, who was managing his own flight school at the airport.
“Harvey (Roddick) at 6’4” with a military rank of Brigadier General and commander of high performance Mach 2 nuclear-strike-capable aircraft, such as the CF-104 Starfighter, certainly kept me on the straight and narrow path to success. It prepared me for my future. He took me into narrow grass strips with corn fields surrounding the runway on all sides – places most flight instructors wouldn’t dare take a new student, let alone a 15-year-old curly-haired girl.
“Meeting the standards wasn’t how Harvey instructed me. It was to exceed all standards. Map reading was a necessary skill. Harvey read maps in the Starfighter at about 500 knots (926 km/h), 50 feet above ground level. I soon realized I didn’t get lost reading a map in the (de Havilland) Beaver because about 100 knots was about the fastest I could go.
“As I walked into my Air Canada interview, after already handing in my log books, I was asked by one of the interviewers, ‘Did you fly with ‘THE’ Harvey Roddick? I confidently said, ‘yes.’ Thank you Harvey for being such an instrumental and impactful part of my entire aviation career.”
“One of my favourite quotes is actually the words of Amelia Earhart. ‘The most effective way to do it, is to do it.’ If you know my parents or brother, you will understand. Working at the speed of ‘dad’ is something I still aspire to do. There is no complaining about going to work. It is because of growing up in this environment that I have gained employment to begin with by convincing employers I’m a farm kid and will maintain a strong work ethic, which I was raised to know. They have all dared to step foot within an aircraft with me, grandma being my second passenger ever, even after watching me take out ginseng gardens with poor tractor-and-wagon reverse skills. In my defence, I couldn’t even reach the clutch,” Crombez laughed.
“I have spent many years mentoring young people, trying to instill a certainty that there are no boundaries. It is my hope that these young girls will be able to blaze their trail without having to overcome gender adversities.
“The 99s have been an important part of my flying career. They have supported me through scholarships toward furthering my flight training, opened up mentorship opportunities, and allowed me to give back to the aviation community. I have been fortunate to meet an incredible group of women who all have unique and inspiring stories. The past few months, I have worked especially close with the stamp committee. Not only did they do an extraordinary job on the stamp, they have had to carefully work around ever-changing COVID guidelines to put this launch together. So thank you. These women, and everyone who made this day possible, deserve a round of applause.”
Crombez also thanked her sister, Abby, and husband (and co-pilot) Nate.
“Family, friends and fellow aviators, thank you for joining me today,” Crombez concluded. “I appreciate everyone making the trip, braving the heat – possibly a thunderstorm, and celebrating with me. Thank you.”
“I’d like to recognize the efforts of the East (Canada) Section of the 99s for the valuable contributions that you make to the overall aviation community,” said Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar, representing Tillsonburg Town Council, the Town’s airport advisory committee, user groups at the airport, and the Town’s corporate team that assisted in organizing Friday’s stamp launch.
“Congratulations on all you have achieved to date in the world of aviation,” said Molnar. “It’s truly a sphere where you have defined that ‘the sky is truly the limit.’ Congratulations, specifically today, as you are recognized on a (commemorative) stamp as part of the Women in Flight series for being the first female pilot the Bombardier CL-415 water bomber.
“I’d further like to extend recognition to Emily on her continued value and optimism that you bring to young pilots, our youth, especially the young girls to ensure that they are reinforced, knowing that they can accomplish their own dreams no matter where they may be,” concluded Molnar, who presented Crombez with a certificate of recognition on behalf of the municipality of Tillsonburg in celebration of her outstanding achievement in aviation and the launch of her new commemorative postage stamp.
Crombez’s first flight instructor at the Tillsonburg Regional Airport, Harvey Roddick, still an active flight instructor at the age of 86, also spoke at the stamp launch.
“I first met Emily in May of 2003,” said Roddick. “She showed up at the airport here one day asking if she could take flying lessons. I didn’t realize at the time that she was only 15.
“She took all of her private pilot training here, and the way the dates worked out, she was able – after her 16th birthday – to get her recreational pilot permit. And then a year later when she turned 17, because of the time the flight test was done, and the written exam, she was able to qualify for her private pilot licence.
“When I was flying with Emily, she was a very, very good student,” said Roddick. “And she was very busy on top of it. She was still going to school. She was working in tobacco. She played on two ball teams, and I think her father probably had a few jobs for her on the farm as well. So I don’t know where she got the time to do all this, plus she was taking ground school and flying. She completed the private pilot’s course in less than three months, but mostly in July-August 2003.”
Roddick recalls a day when Crombez was training on the airport’s grass runway, doing short-field landings and takeoffs.
“The landings were perfect, she didn’t have to back-track or anything. She just took off again. I was standing here watching her, and there were two Class 1 instructors here from another flying school… and one of them said, ‘WHO is that?’ I said, ‘Well, for your information, that’s a 15-year-old girl with about 25 hours of flying time. Their jaws just about hit the floor… because they were not allowed to fly on the grass, it was too dangerous.’”
In 2008, Roddick gave Crombez multi-engine training shortly before she went to work for Bearskin Airlines.
“They didn’t even look at her multi (engine) time, they just looked at her float (plane) time because they knew she was a good pilot.
“I’m very, very pleased that Emily has been given this honour, she certainly deserves it. And I don’t think there’s very many pilots in the system that have the background that she’s got, all the different kinds of airplanes she’s flown, all the different roles, etc. I’ve been very happy to stay in contact with her over all these years and follow her career with a great deal of interest.
“I’d like to thank the 99s for honouring Emily in this respect, she certainly deserves it, and I wish her all the best in the future,” Roddick concluded.
“Each year we have chosen a Canadian woman pilot to honour with a stamp,” said Marilyn Dickson, chair of the East Canada Section of the Ninety-Nines stamp committee. “Over the years we’ve had some quite remarkable women, and you don’t get to be on a stamp easily, and I think Emily is the first one who has been able to get on the stamp at her young age. Most of the other women that we have chosen (since 2008) have taken their whole careers to become notable enough for that.”
The commemorative stamps serve two purposes, she said, in addition to recognizing outstanding women in aviation. They are fundraisers for the East Canada Section of the 99s, and they help raise visibility for the organization, which encourages people who use the commemorative stamps (valid as postage stamps) to include written biography of the person on the stamp.
“To let more Canadians know more about some of our wonderful women pilots,” said Dickson.
“On behalf of the East Canada Section of the 99s, it is my pleasure to welcome all of you here today to honour a very special lady, and an aviation sister to many ladies here today, Emily Crombez,” said Kim Winsor, an Air Canada pilot and Governor of the 99s East Canada Section.
“Emily is a member of the 99s, which is an international organization of licenced women pilots from 44 countries,” said Winsor. “We currently have over 6,000 members throughout the world. Although there are other female pilot organizations in various parts of the world, virtually all women of achievement in aviation have been, or are, members of the 99s. Today, the 99s are professional pilots for airlines, industry and government – such as Emily. We are pilots who teach pilots who fly for pleasure. We are pilots who are technicians and mechanics. But first and foremost we are women who love to fly.
“Emily has been a member of the 99s since 2011. In fact, she founded the Sleeping Giant chapter of the 99s in Thunder Bay. Emily has also been a participant of the Amelia Earhart Scholarship through the 99s. Emily is an active member, and is also a mentor to other ladies through various mentorship programs.
“She is loved and well respected by all of her aviation sisters, and it gives me great pleasure to be here today to honour Emily as the chosen honouree of the 2020 stamp through the East Canada Section,” Winsor concluded. “Congratulations Emily.”