Jump to content

Mary Dohey, 06/12/17, Air Canada (ret'd) , Cross of Valour,


Recommended Posts

I heard a past interview with her on CBC today but can't seem to find it on their website. 

From the Mississauga.com




Mary Dohey is probably the most worthy Canadian hero that you've never heard of. And she's not one iota interested in changing that.


At the city centre long-term care centre where she lives, just west of city hall, none of her fellow residents or management know that the 80-year-old is the first living Canadian recipient of the Cross of Valour, the highest honour this country can award for bravery.

The wording on the framed citation she keeps unobtrusively in her apartment says it was given, "in recognition of an act of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril."

A resident of Mississauga since 1967, Mary says she once had the honour of having Mayor Hazel McCallion on her flight. The mayor came to the back of the plane and sat down beside her to complain about the outrageously high cost of furniture she was shopping for at the time.

Mary told the mayor that she lived in her city but she didn't mention her award.

Every few months, the City holds recognition awards for outstanding local citizens less than a block away from her residence, but Mary's never received one.

It's a certainty she won't be bringing the oversight to anyone's attention.

But if you prompt her about it, Dohey doesn't minimize the magnitude of what happened on a day she will never forget.

"January 12, 1971, 4:05 p.m. That's when it began."


She was a stewardess for Air Canada, flying out of Calgary on a DC8 that would become infamous as "the doomsday flight," one of the first-ever cases of international skyjacking. 

A profoundly disturbed man, armed with a shotgun, his face covered in a black mask took Dohey and the plane hostage, forcing her to sit holding detonating wires attached to sticks of dynamite he lined up along the table beside her.

In a crudely crafted 506-word note to the crew, (Dohey's grasp of every detail of the nightmare is still crystal sharp) the 35-year veteran stewardess recalled that the hijacker wrote that he would "take a girl hostage. She will panic and I'll blow up the plane. There will be no heroes tonight."

Well, Dohey was taken hostage but she didn't panic, even when the hostage who called himself Dennis accidentally fired his shotgun.

"You didn't mean to do that now, did you dear?" Dohey said to Dennis. Then she asked him if she could hold his hand.

"I specialized in psychology when I was studying nursing and by that point I knew that I had him won over. I was holding his hand, and not because I was in love with him, I'll tell you," says Dohey, whose impish sense of humour surfaces no matter what horrors she speaks of. "I was afraid the whole time."

She formed a bond with him, to the point where she became his "lifeline."

A romantic breakup had triggered a death wish in the hijacker, who kept repeating that everyone on the plane would die.

A deeply religious woman, from the outport of St. Brides in Newfoundland, Dohey says "I guess God knows everything. I think I was meant to be the hostage on that flight.

"I never thought that we would make it. I said to him, 'Well God, it looks like you want me to die. I don't want to die but Lord, give me the knowledge so that these people on this plane don't have to die with me."

In the course of a zig-zag flight, in which the hijacker kept making and changing his outrageous demands, Dohey worked hard to secure the hijacker's confidence and trust.

When she mentioned she was the youngest of 14 children, it seemed to strike a chord with Dennis. 

Later, Dohey would pretend she heard hungry children crying on the plane. The hijacker agreed with her suggestion that the passengers should then be released.

At that point he offered to let Mary leave the plane, but she refused. This was the specific act of "conspicuous courage," — her decision to put the lives of her fellow crew ahead of her own — which earned her the Cross of Valour.

Her explanation is straightforward: "I knew that if I got off … if I got up from his side, he would go berserk and shoot everyone else. I was like his security blanket, like a mother is."

Dennis eventually demanded ransom money and held a shotgun impatiently to Mary's throat until the money was delivered. When the crew had trouble opening the door wide enough to bring the money-stuffed suitcase into the plane, she faked a sneezing fit to distract the hijacker while the door was opened wider — which he had forbidden.

As the crew later flew at an altitude of 1,000 ft., so that he could jump out of the plane in a parachute with his money, the hijacker put down his gun for a moment. That's when the crew jumped him.

"The purser, Johnny Arpin, hit him over the head with a fire axe. Then he looked at me and said "I think we've killed him."

To which Dohey replied, "if you think I'm going to give him first aid, you're crazy."

She hesitates for a second, then adds, "That was wrong — but I couldn't help myself."

That's probably the difference between Mary Dohey and the rest of us. How many of us would give ourselves a hard time for feeling anger towards a psychotic man who could have needlessly ended our own life and those of so many other innocent people? 

The hijacker, whose real name was Paul Cini, told his psychiatrist that he only survived because of the soothing voice that called him dear. "She knew exactly how to do it," he said. "She just kept talking and talking and talking. I couldn't concentrate on what I was supposed to do."

Cini received four life sentences and 15 years for extortion and kidnapping. He was released after serving seven years and is now married with several children and living in Calgary.

Dohey's steely character and instincts for survival were developed in part as a result of a horrific childhood.

In the midst of the Depression her mother died and her father had to put his two youngest into an orphanage. The government offered $16 a day to anyone who would take a foster child into their home.

From ages of 3 to 9, Mary lived with a woman who treated her as a virtual slave, making her scrub floors and walk barefoot into town to do errands.

"I had one dress which was never washed," she says. "I never saw the inside of a schoolhouse until I was 8-years-old. It's a wonder she didn't kill me."

Dohey was regularly beaten with a belt and her foster mother would always say, "make sure there's a buckle on it.

"I was like Cinderella. I had to get down on my knees and scrub the floor. I was lucky to get a crust of bread to eat, even if it was mouldy."

She survived by eating the berries and other fruits that grow in abundance near Placentia Bay. She also learned to raid all the best gardens in town.

"They never made a fence I couldn't jump," she laughs, recalling that she'd often down the carrots she stole without even washing them off.

As she was receiving her Cross of Valour, she recalled the words that her foster mother spat at her so often, "someday, you'll be found in the gutter where you belong." 

Dohey says her deprived childhood informed her adult character.

"I really do think that's what gave me my health and strength," she says. "That prepared me for the worst in life, although I never thought of it that way at the time."

For more on Dohey, see the Back Pages blog at http://www.mississauga.com/blogs/4303623/


• when Mary Dohey bought her first home on Shadeland Dr. in Erindale Woodlands in 1967, she couldn't get a mortgage because she was a single woman. She had to get letters from St. Joseph's Hospital where she worked as a nurse and from Air Canada, where she worked as a stewardess, vouching for her salaries before she could get financing.

• Dohey worked 35 years for Trans Canada Airlines and Air Canada, taking a retirement package in 1991. When she first worked for the airline, you had to be a nurse to qualify to be a stewardess. If you married, you had to quit your job. Dohey, who never married, jokes that "by the time they changed the rule, I was too old and nobody wanted me."

• Dohey's story is highlighted in the recently-published book Air Canada: The History by Dundurn Press. Author Peter Piggott recently cited the doomsday flight in a Globe and Mail article as one of the "Ten Things You Don't Know About Air Canada."

• Dohey is particularly fond of a Canadian Press photograph of her being presented to Queen Elizabeth II in 1977 by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. "He was gorgeous. I had a crush on him," says the 37-year local resident. She returned to her room in California one morning after visiting a girlfriend to the sound of a ringing telephone in her hotel room at 8 a.m.. "Where have you been?" a male voice demanded of her.   "Who is this?" she replied. It was the prime minister inviting her to an investiture at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. "I nearly died," she says.

• After the stress of the hijacking, Dohey was deeply traumatized. She received no offer of counselling, although others did. She had nightmares for years and worried every time a passenger went into an airplane bathroom that they might emerge in the black "doomsday costume" that Cini wore. Asked if she thinks much about the incident these days she replies, "I don't allow myself to do that anymore because it depresses me."

• Dohey says the huge gush of publicity that put her in the national spotlight after the hijacking was ridiculous. "Everybody was thinking I should be a saint," she says incredulously. Former Air Canada President Claude Taylor once played on that theme and Dohey's well-publicized religious nature, at a national meeting of airline employees. He joked that, "I'm going to hear Mary Dohey's confession." When she got to the front of the room after the remark, she told Taylor, "You've really got your work cut out for you."

• Only one passenger ever tried to contact Dohey after the hijacking to thank her for what she did to save the lives of the passengers. Joy Maybin spent most of two years asking Air Canada to contact Dohey or give her some way to contact her. Dohey eventually wrote Maybin, then called her and the two became friends. In a phone call in 2001, following 9/11, Maybin told me that at one point during the ordeal, as the DC8's pitch changed dramatically, "I gave up. I was ready to die." The strangest feeling was to disembark from the plane and then watch it take off again from Great Falls, Montana. "There we were, safe on the ground and they (the crew) were not. I knew she was sitting up there, tied up with the dynamite," Maybin said of Dohey. Maybin observed, as have many before her, that had it not been for the calming influence of the stewardess, there would have been a tragic conclusion to the flight. "I was quite happy that it was Mary on that flight. She was mature enough to handle it."

• when asked to pose for a photo with her Cross of Valour, Dohey can't find it in her apartment at a city centre long-term care unit. But "it's no big deal" she says. "It's around here somewhere." Instead, she substitutes the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee medal that she received a couple of years ago for the anniversary of Elizabeth's 60th year as Queen of England and the Commonwealth. While you won't see any medals displayed on her walls, you will see a framed photo of her graduation from nursing school and a number of religious icons and "angels" scattered everywhere in her apartment to proclaim her strong Catholic faith.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great story, thanks for posting that, although this stood out to me....



Cini received four life sentences and 15 years for extortion and kidnapping. He was released after serving seven years and is now married with several children and living in Calgary.

Four life sentences and 15 years and he is out in seven???????

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...