Olive Ann Beech was born September 25, 1903, in Waverly, Kansas. From an early age, Mellor enjoyed breaking gender roles. She had a bank account at the age of seven and later kept track of the family’s accounts.
Olive Ann Beech attended Wichita business school and began her aviation career in 1924 as bookkeeper and secretary of Travel Air Manufacturing Company, newly established in Wichita by Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman. Mellor learned the business from the ground up, handling all correspondence, maintaining records, and conducting transactions. She eventually became office manager and then personal secretary to Beech as the company grew.
Mellor and Beech married February 24, 1930, in Wichita. In 1932 they established their own company, Beech Aircraft, with Olive Ann as secretary-treasurer. When Walter became ill in 1940, she took control of the company. During World War II, Beech Aircraft grew dramatically, with employment going from a few hundred workers to almost 14,000.
After Walter died in 1950, Olive Ann became company president . Demands for military aircraft kept the company growing. Beech Aircraft also supplied products for NASA’s Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs. During her nearly 20 years at the helm, sales tripled.
The Beeches received numerous awards and honors including the Bendix Trophy in 1936 and induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Olive Ann was the first woman to receive the National Aeronautic Association’s Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy. In 1943 New York Times named her one of 12 most distinguished women in America, and in 1970 Fortune magazine called her one of the 10 highest-ranking women executives in major American corporations. She was named the Native Sons and Daughters’ Kansan of the Year in 1957.
In 1980 Beech Aircraft merged with the Raytheon Company, and Olive Ann was elected to the board of directors. She retired in 1982, becoming Beech Aircraft’s first chairman emeritus, a position she continued to hold until her death on July 6, 1993.