At first glance, 85-year-old Myrt Rose is the epitome of class: sophisticated, educated, and glamorous. But a few minutes into a conversation with her, one quickly realizes this remarkable woman knows no fear and has lived her life with a wild sense of adventure.
“You can’t just sit home and be afraid,” Rose told Growing Bolder.
After graduating from Endicott College in 1956, Rose became an art teacher; but her wanderlust wouldn’t let her stay in one place for too long. She moved to Peru to spend a year in the Amazon jungle before heading to the Bahamas to dive for treasure with her first husband, Ted Strong.
The Strongs owned a parachute company in Massachusetts which later moved to the Orlando area. Myrt jumped out of airplanes hundreds of times, beginning in her 20s.
“They put you in the door of the plane, and the wind is just grand,” she recalled. “Your feet slide sideways, and you start to wonder, ‘What am I doing?’ But once you’re out, it is so quiet, and you’re just floating. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
In her 40s, Rose went from parachuting out of a plane to standing on top of one. She performed as a professional wing walker for the first time at the 1976 Oshkosh Air Show. The plane climbed 1,500 feet then dove toward the ground at 170 mph with Rose strapped to a pole attached to the wing. All the while, the pilot performed maneuvers and flips requiring Rose to have nerves of steel.
What’s even more incredible, Rose’s training had been canceled due to weather, so she was forced to debut her first wing walk without any practice.
“I had already been parachuting and flying,” Rose said. “This was just kind of a next step. It was fun. I had a great time.”
Rose and her husband eventually divorced but remained good friends until his death in 2011.
It was at the Oshkosh Air Show in 1985 that Rose met her second husband, Bill Rose. Together, they collected and flew antique airplanes throughout their 18-year marriage. Myrt learned to fly single and multi-engine aircraft, including seaplanes. She earned her helicopter rating when she was 60.
To surprise Bill on his 70th birthday, Myrt tracked down her former airshow friends and performed acrobatic stunts to an audience of cheering family and friends. She was 64 when she performed her final wing walk over the couple’s Marco Island home.
“Every five years, Bill had to have a big birthday party,” Myrt said. “So, when I wing walked on his 70th, a reporter asked what we would do for his 75th birthday. He jokingly replied, ‘She’ll probably ride naked on an elephant.’ I thought, ‘Oh, I can do that!’”
Five years later, Myrt did indeed ride into Bill’s circus-themed 75th birthday party on an elephant. She wasn’t naked; but she wore a skin-colored body suit, which made Bill and the party guests do a double take.
For Bill’s 80th birthday, Myrt rented a wildlife preserve in Naples, Florida, where they rode and kissed camels.
In 2010, Bill died at the age of 83 following a heart attack. Myrt carried on their tradition of flying and maintained their fleet of planes until it became too much for her to handle.
Today, Myrt still pilots an antique airplane, a J-3 Piper Cub she named “Winston.” She spends half of her time in Florida and half in Barrington, Illinois, where she has a second airstrip.
Trouble in the sky
It was in Barrington in 2011 that Myrt Rose made headlines around the world. The 75-year-old adventurer unintentionally flew through then President Obama’s restricted airspace.
“It took six months to convince the Secret Service it was an honest mistake,” Rose said. “I thought the jets were from the nearby air show and were just looking at how cute my little antique plane was. It wasn’t until I landed and saw eight police cars surrounding my plane that I knew something else was going on.”
Reporters called her after the incident; but she managed to avoid them, at least for a while.
“I saw a headline in my local paper that read, ‘Elderly Woman Invades Obama Airspace,’ and they printed my age,” Rose said. “Well, I didn’t think that was nice at all. It was then that I decided I would give an interview, and the next guy who called was from the Associated Press. So, my story went all over the world.”
Rose claims she never became great at any one thing. But people who know her disagree.
“I’d be doing something, and then I’d see something else that looked more interesting or more fun,” Rose said. “So, I would go do that other thing instead.”
Rose calls that a “distraction.” Others know better. They see a fearless woman living a life of passion, pursuing a never-ending hunt for fun and adventure.