“High integrity, absolutely honest. She had a sense of empathy and compassion. I observed her, helping others often, even when she was in difficult situations. I saw her looking for the good in whomever she was dealing with. When she moved to Cordova, it was as if she had found her spiritual home. She embraced Cordova!” Margy Johnson said.
My introduction to Liza is a story that I like to tell. It was the fall of 1993 and I was looking for a local job for the winter. I had met Liza at various functions in town and when she heard that I had planned to stay through the winter and was looking for a job, she approached me with an offer.
They needed a dispatcher at the air taxi that she flew for. Little did I know what I was in for. Liza hired me, took me to the airport and trained me, and after my first day happily sent me home early to get “rested”. On my second day on the job, Liza had a flight.
While she was gone a tall, skinny pilot came through the office at a high rate of speed and halted at the desk looking at me with a confused expression.
“Who are you?” he asked abruptly.
“I work here,” I chattered back. “Who are you?” I countered.
Well, he paused, “my name is Steve and I own this business.”
This is how I found out that Liza preferred flying to dispatch, that I was her solution to getting more air time and less office time, and how I met my husband Steve.
Liza was the kind of friend that could pick up with a friendship like you were never apart, even if it was years between meetings. She was a hard worker, had an adventurous spirit, and added a touch of style to everything she did.
Liza loved to tell folks that she had trained to be a mortician, but then decided to become a pilot instead. She fell in love with her flight instructor Ken, got her pilots license, got married, and came to Cordova in 1986 with her two children, Samantha and Marcus, in tow.
She worked for Alaska Wilderness Outfitters, Chitna Air, Cordova Air, and Fishing and Flying, to name a few local businesses, and enjoying being one of the few women pilots to fly in a field dominated by men.
I loved the look on clients’ faces when after loading the plane; she would help them to into their seats, and hop in after them, taking control. Liza was a regular fixture on the Prince William Sound mail route in the early 1990s, making stops at Chenega, Tatitlek, Falls Bay, Ellamar and Port San Juan. A plane crash in the Wrangle Mountains spelled the end of her flying career and would send her looking for her next full time adventure.
Liza did roughly 40 months of service at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, spanning a decade, and loving every minute. The Pole suited her and she did her job well. She and Ken were major participants in the famous self-treatment of breast cancer that Dr. Jerri Nielsen performed in 1998 before her dramatic rescue could be performed later that spring.
She also decided to get her captain’s license, but chose to stay on the deck and became a popular tour guide on the Kenai Fijords Tours for a few years, after relocating to Seward. I was pleased to see that her latest adventure involved the Seward Sea Life Center and looked forward to visiting with her in the gift shop whenever I made it to town.
Liza left her mark on Cordova. She worked at the Reluctant Fisherman and is fondly remembered by previous owner and once Mayor of Cordova, Margy Johnson. She also was one of the first office personalities for Orca Adventure Lodge and her spunky personality is talked about often by longtime clients and staff, noted for adding a touch of class and flair to all that she did.
In short, Liza was a friend to many, and she will be missed but not forgotten by those of us whose lives were better for knowing her.
Wendy Ranney and her husband Steve own and operate Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova Alaska.