Lady Hazel S. Whittle, a registered nurse who had worked at the National Institutes of Health and was the widow of Sir Frank Whittle, who is considered one of the fathers of jet propulsion, died Monday from complications of Parkinson disease at her Columbia home. She was 91.
Hazel Steenberg was born and raised in West St. Paul, Minn., and received her nursing diploma in 1937 from the Kahler School of Nursing, which is affiliated with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
After working as a private-duty and hospital nurse, she attended the Patricia Stevens School of Modeling in Chicago.
"She became a stewardess for TWA in 1941 at a time when stewardesses were required to be nurses," said her daughter, Carla Hall Clavelle of Columbia.
In 1943, she joined the Navy and attained the rank of lieutenant. During the war years, she was assigned as a nurse to the Great Lakes Naval Air Station near Chicago, which received wounded and ill servicemen, many with unknown tropical diseases.
"She also worked through an outbreak of scarlet fever, and for several years afterward, she struggled with her own illnesses acquired during the war," her daughter said.
While recuperating from a tropical disease at Bethesda Naval Hospital in 1947, she met Sir Frank Whittle, a British engineer, also a patient at the hospital, who had patented the idea of a jet engine in 1932.
However, it was Hans J. P. von Ohain, a German engineer, who beat Mr. Whittle in getting a plane powered by a jet engine into the air in 1937. The Gloster E.28/39, the first British plane with a turbojet engine, did not fly until 1941.
In 1948, Mr. Whittle's jet engine earned him a British knighthood from King George VI.
Mrs. Whittle left Bethesda in the late 1940s and returned to nursing at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Topeka, Kan., where she met and fell in love with an Army veteran, Virgil L. Hall, who was recuperating at the hospital.
The couple married in 1950 and divorced a year later.
Mrs. Whittle then went to work as a nurse at hospitals in Boston before moving to Bethesda in 1957, when she began nursing at the National Institutes of Health. She retired in 1972.
"In the late 1950s, she became reacquainted with Mr. Whittle when he came to the U.S. to receive several awards," her daughter said.
In 1976, she married Mr. Whittle, who was a research professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, and settled in Columbia.
After her husband's death in 1996, she moved into the Vantage House Life Care Community in Columbia.
"Her hobby was Sir Frank. She collected boxes and boxes of material on his life and career," Ms. Clavelle said. "In 1986, she accompanied him to England when he was appointed to the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II."
In 2005, Mrs. Whittle and her daughter visited Lutterworth, England, where the Gloster's jet engine had been developed, and a replica of the airplane had been installed.
Mrs. Whittle, who was also known as Ardyce or Tommie, enjoyed traveling, walking around Columbia and spending time with family and friends.
"She was Lady Whittle and a real lady all the time," said Rosel Sophia O'Neill, a longtime Columbia friend. "She and Sir Frank used to pass by our door on their walks, and one day we invited them in for tea. That's how we got to be friends."
Mrs. O'Neill described her as a "highly intelligent" and a "very knowledgeable and pretty woman."
"Even during several years of cognitive and physical decline, she maintained her good nature and humor," her daughter said. "She was admired for her always lovely appearance and elegance."
Mrs. Whittle will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Plans for a memorial service to be held in West St. Paul were incomplete yesterday.
Also surviving are two stepsons, Ian Whittle of Woking, England, and David Whittle of St. Andrews, Scotland; and two grandsons.