Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Copyright Â© Las Vegas Review-Journal
Widow of famed pilot dies at 68
Couple met at CIA after Soviets traded U-2 flier in 1962
By KEITH ROGERS
A private memorial service will be held Saturday in Las Vegas for Sue Powers, the
widow of Francis Gary Powers, the famous Cold War U-2 pilot whose plane was shot down on a covert CIA mission over the former Soviet Union in 1960.
Sue Powers died Thursday of respiratory failure in Las Vegas, a week after she
began recovering from a coma that she had slipped into on June 5, said her son, Gary Powers Jr. She was 68.
"Sue Powers, my mom, was a delightful woman with many friends. She loved life to
the fullest. ... She was basically loved by all who knew her," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
She was an advocate of preserving Cold War history and had worked as a
volunteer at the Atomic Testing Museum on East Flamingo Road "almost right up to her death," said Troy Wade, who is chairman of the Nevada Test Site Historical
"I think she was as much of a Cold War warrior as her husband and believed in him
and what he did through the events in the Soviet Union until his untimely death in the helicopter crash," said Wade, a former Energy Department defense chief.
She was born Claudia Edwards in Leesburg, Va., on July 23, 1935, and she grew
up in Warrenton, Va., and Washington, D.C., where she graduated from Anacostia High School in 1954.
After high school, she worked for the Central Intelligence Agency as a
psychometrist, testing CIA agents when they returned from abroad to compile reports for doctors who would determine whether the agents were still loyal.
She met Francis Gary Powers at the CIA in February 1962 after his release from a Soviet prison.
Powers, a CIA pilot for the high-flying U-2, was shot down over central Russia by
a surface-to-air missile that exploded behind the U-2 close enough to disable it.
President Eisenhower admitted on May 7, 1960, that Powers had been on a spy
mission when he bailed out at 30,000 feet and was captured after surviving the parachute jump.
The capture turned into an international incident that led to his release on Feb.
10, 1962, in exchange for Soviet KGB spy Rudolph Abel, who had been caught in the United States and convicted of espionage.
While at the CIA that year, Francis Gary Powers met his future wife when he ran
into her while rounding a corner near their offices.
Coffee was spilled, Gary Powers Jr. said. That led to buying a cup of coffee, which
later led to dinner and eventually romance, he said.
She left the CIA before their marriage in November 1963. They then moved from
the Washington, D.C., area to Sun Valley, Calif., where he was a Lockheed test pilot through 1970.
He went on to work for a Los Angeles radio station and in 1976 took a job flying a
helicopter for KNBC television. He died when his helicopter crashed on Aug. 1, 1977.
Sue Powers continued to live in the Los Angeles area until 1994 when she moved
to Las Vegas. She had established a part-time residence in the early 1980s.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed the family's house in Sherman Oaks
and persuaded her to move to Las Vegas permanently, her son said.
Gary Powers Jr., 39, who is founder of the Cold War Museum, a traveling exhibit
that pays tribute to his father, said his mother was a supporter of several charitable organizations and organized book fairs with authors to raise money for cancer research.
"She loved to read books," he said.
She was an honorary chairman of the Silent Heroes of the Cold War National Memorial Committee.
In an interview two years ago, while helping local Boy Scout leader Steve Ririe's effort to retrieve Cold War
artifacts from a plane crash on Mount Charleston, Sue Powers said the experience "brought back a lot of memories
with Frank (Gary Powers) and Area 51 because he was trained there to fly the U-2."
She told the Review-Journal, "I had goose bumps here and there."
A C-54 transport plane crashed on the mountain in 1955, and 14 who were on their way to Area 51 to test the U-2
spy plane were killed.
A propeller from the C-54 has been restored and is displayed at the Atomic Test Museum with Powers' flight suit
and helmet and other memorabilia.
Sue Powers will be buried July 13 in the plot with her husband at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Survivors are Gary Powers Jr. of Fairfax, Va., a daughter, Dee Rogers of Eagan, Minn., and two grandchildren.
Instead of flowers, the family requests donations be made in her name to the Cold War Museum.