President, PM mourn Gyan Patnaik’s death (Lead)

February 18th, 2009 - 6:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha PatilNew Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday mourned the death of Gyan Patnaik, one of India’s earliest women pilots and the widow of former Orissa chief minister Biju Patnaik.
Gyan, 89, died here Tuesday after suffering from a bout of pneumonia.

“She was a woman of substance who had a will of steel,” Pratibha Patil said in her condolence message to Gyan Patnaik’s son and Orissa’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

“In a time when women were still struggling to gain widespread acceptance in the society to take up careers, she ventured into a career full of adventure, by training to become a pilot,” the president said.

“She was also aware of the need to popularise science and using it for the upliftment of society, which she did through the Kalinga Foundation,” Patil said.

In his message, the prime minister said Gyan was “a role model for women at a time when they were trying to make their mark in the mainstream of Indian society”.

“Her exemplary career as a pilot and dedication to ensure the reach of science for the benefit of the masses through the Kalinga Foundation, will be remembered for years to come,” he added.

Gyan Patnaik is survived by her two sons, Prem and Naveen and writer-daughter Geeta Mehta. Naveen, who stayed with his mother until he entered politics in 1997, was by her bedside when she died at their family house on Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi.

Gyan was one of the first women in the country to get a commercial pilot’s licence in the 1930s. She flew with her legendary husband during World War II to rescue Indonesian leader Soekarno from Dutch-besieged Java.

Biju, who was a pilot with the Royal Indian Air Force during World War II, married Gyan, a Punjabi from Lahore in 1938. The flamboyant Biju flew the groom’s party to Lahore for the wedding.

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