A North Granville resident has been named Alumni of the Year at a college recently ranked among the top 100 schools in the country by Forbes.
Mary Silitch was selected as the Distinguished Alumni of the Year for 2014 at Rhodes College. Silitch was a unanimous selection and will be presented with the award at the Alumni Convocation during the 2014 Homecoming Reunion Weekend on Saturday, Oct. 11.
The award is just the most recent accolade in a long and distinguished career that has seen Silitch work her way through the ranks of two of the country’s largest publishing companies and garner inclusion in two aviation hall of fames.
Silitch attended Rhodes College in the mid-1950s, although at the time the school was known as Southwestern at Memphis. She majored in English and was managing editor of the school newspaper.
“I wanted to be a writer,” Silitch said.
After graduating in 1957 she worked for a lawyer in Memphis, but quickly realized she “was doing all the work” and was on the “wrong side of the typewriter.” She enrolled in the University of Memphis’s Law School, but her time there was short lived.
“I had a 97 average so I figured it must not be a very good school,” Silitch said.
In 1960, she moved to New York City and within two weeks had a job as assistant fiction editor at Mademoiselle, a now defunct women’s magazine owned by Conde Nast, one of the largest magazine publishers in the New York. Later she was hired as an editorial assistant at the Saturday Evening Post, but the appointment coincided with the decline of the publication and a short time later she was among 1,000 employees who were laid off.
Undeterred, in 1963 she was hired as copy editor for McGraw-Hill Book Company. Two years into the position, one of her friends mentioned that he had been hired to work for Flying magazine and that the publication was going to pay him to learn to fly. Silitch, who had first flown in a crop duster airplane over her family farm at the age of four, was immediately interested.
“I didn’t know there was such a thing,” she said. “I went to the (news) stand and got a copy of the magazine, found some mistakes and showed them and was hired.”
She worked as an associate editor for the publication and began taking flying lessons, earning her private pilot license.
During her time at Flying, the magazine went through three managing editors. Believing she could do a better job, she inquired about the possibility of becoming the editor. But the publisher immediately clipped her wings.
“I was told I couldn’t be managing editor because I was a girl. I couldn’t believe it,” Silitch said.
Fortunately not all publishers shared that sentiment and Silitch was hired as managing editor for Air Progress. That job lasted five years and in 1974 Silitch took a position with the National Pilots Association in Washington, writing a newsletter that covered Capitol Hill.
That experience earned her a position with the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association, a non-profit political organization that advocates for general aviation. There she wrote the organization’s newsletter and worked for its magazine, Pilot, before become executive editor for the Seaplane Pilots Association.
She parlayed that experienced into a position with Private Pilot where she enjoyed great success. The company that published the magazine also published 18 other magazines and Private Pilot was one of its most successful.
“It had the fourth highest profit. A year later, after I left, it was last. I killed off a lot of magazines after I left,” Silitch joked.
After retiring, Silitch and her husband, Nicholas, lived on a boat for six years and during that time stumbled upon the area and moved into a 1790 house in North Granville in 2006.
In 2010, Silitch was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame and two years later was inducted into the Women in Aviation, International-Pioneer Hall of Fame.
Despite her success, Silitch remains humble about her accomplishments.
“Basically, I have lots of good friends who nominated me for these great awards,” she said.
Silitch said she has already made reservations to attend the Distinguished Alumni of the Year banquet on Oct. 11.
“It’s an incredible honor and something I never expected,” Silitch said.
“I never could believe that people would pay me to read stories and fly.”