Some people are heroes without meaning to be, and modestly claim afterward: “We got lucky!”
Robyne McCarthy Taylor was flying for Qantas, based in her native Australia. Born and raised in Victoria, Robyne, now 66, joined Qantas after trying a secretarial job in Melbourne after high school.
“I was 21 when I joined Qantas,” she recalls. “I trained with a group of really quality people—we were the youngest girls they had ever employed. We’ve remained really close throughout the years. It was when the (Boeing) 747s came in. I was one of three girls, ‘flight hostesses,’ who flew on each flight along with 12 male ‘stewards.’
“We had to sign a contract on our application about whether we wanted to retire at 35 or at 55. I was only 21, and thought that surely by 35, I’d be willing to go. But the stewards didn’t have to sign a contract. They also could get promoted into cushier jobs. We had the babies and toilets, and didn’t get counted for seniority that would lead to better positions and pay.”
Taylor was a member of the union specifically for the “girls,” while the “boys” had their own as well.
“I attended meetings, and we finally said, ‘Let’s go after them.’ We wanted equality, access to promotions, the chance to rise to be pursers and more money. Australian men were very chauvinistic, and they would say, ‘I’m not taking any orders from a Sheila!’ They didn’t think we’d win it.
“We got a female judge … and we got lucky!”
Taylor is a 25-year resident of The Springs in Rancho Mirage. She and her late husband, banker David Taylor, moved to the desert from Chicago after some friends convinced them to come and visit.
The couple met, naturally, on a plane.
“I had gotten fed up with flying and got a cushy job—I was kind of a flight spy,” she says. “I had been involved with a London-educated gentleman from Bahrain. … He wasn’t part of a royal family, but high up there. Anyway, I was sitting in first class on a Sydney-to-Singapore flight, heading to Bahrain. David was sitting in front of me heading to London. I thought, ‘What a nice-looking gentleman. Why can’t I meet someone like that?’ There was a magazine rack in front of him, so I got up to see if he had warts or anything like that. He didn’t. I said, ‘Didn’t I see you last week in Tahiti?’ He said, ‘No,’ and went back to his Wall Street Journal. At our stop, I stayed on board, but he was walking around and had time to think about it. When he came back … well, we were together for about 24 years, married for 20 of them.
“He was living in New York at the time, and he didn’t like me being away so much, so I asked for some leave-of-absence time. I told him he had to come to Australia to meet my mother. She actually said, ‘What are your intentions with my daughter?’ He was a total gentleman with such a good sense of humor. He said, ‘I intend to sleep with her as much as I can.’ Once his divorce came through, which had begun before me, I stayed in New York.
“After we were married, we were in London. Because I was still in the union, I said I wanted to go to Paris to help choose the new Qantas uniforms. For 12 years, we had worn lovely dresses designed by (Emilio) Pucci. I didn’t speak French, but I thought I had made it clear at Yves Saint Laurent that I didn’t want to see a single kangaroo anywhere! Three months later, when we opened the boxes, there were kangaroos all over. It was the worst moment of my life,” she says, before suddenly going quiet and serious. “Other than the death of my father. We were very close.”
Robyne and David traveled all over Europe while living in London, and after he retired, they took lots of cruises. “To be honest,” she smiles, “I never want to see another airplane as long as I live.”
Worst passenger ever? “David Frost,” she says without hesitation. “He insisted on sleeping on the floor.”
Best passenger ever? “Sammy Davis Jr. He was wonderful!”
Taylor’s involvement in the local community largely revolves around animals. “I was on the board of Guide Dogs of the Desert and with Loving All Animals, and I’ve supported the Cancer Center for Animals in Chicago. I’m also very lucky to have my little Lola (her dog) in my life. My husband died nine years ago, and Lola has been with me 7 1/2 years while I’m on my own.”
Taylor says she has tired of being charming since David’s death. “I had to be all my life. I’ve become a bit of a recluse,” she says. She hates computers, still sends handwritten notes, and stays in touch with a large group of good friends. Plastered to her garage’s inside walls are pictures, large and small, of key events in settings all over the world, surrounding her chic red convertible.
Taylor is not afraid to stand her ground and fight, no matter how blithely she waves off her accomplishments. She recalls when the settlement check from Qantas—after the case had finally been resolved six years later—arrived in the mail.
“I opened it, and you know those phony checks they send to rope you into something? I thought that’s what it was. David looked at it and said, ‘It’s a real check, for $50,000!’
“We were just lucky.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.