Eddie Rickenbacker Papers, RG 101

Adelaide Frost Rickenbacker

Adelaide Frost was born on May 21, 1885 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She and her sister, Phoebe, were the only children of Stoel Meech Frost, a wholesale grocer. Their mother died early in her life, and the girls were reared by their grandmother.

Adelaide's beauty and her remarkable singing voice led her to perform professionally in Detroit while still a teenager. She attracted the attention of Russell Clifford Durant, son of financier William Crapo Durant who founded General Motors, Chevrolet, and Durant Motors. Adelaide married young Durant in 1911 and moved to the family estate in California. Cliff drove race cars and lived an equally fast life. After enduring Durant's physical abuse and extramarital affairs, Adelaide separated from Durant in 1918 and was granted a divorce in 1921. William Durant settled a trust fund on his former daughter-in-law that made her wealthy. Ironically, Adelaide used the trust to support the elder Durant after his company failed with the Crash of 1929.

In 1921, Adelaide renewed her acquaintence with famous race-car driver and air ace Eddie Rickenbacker, whom she had met earlier on the race circuit. Rickenbacker was five years her junior (something, she later said, that she never told Capt. Eddie). Their courtship was brisk, and they were married on September 16, 1922 in Greenwich, Connecticut. They honeymooned in Europe and set up housekeeping in Detroit on their return. Within a few years, the Rickenbackers had adopted two young boys, David in 1925 and William in 1928. In 1929, the family moved to New York City.

Although her "volcanic personality" allowed her to make "the marriage a union of equals," Adelaide lived in her husband's shadow except during the early days of World War II. She traveled extensively with golf legend Bobby Jones to raise funds and morale for the Air Force Auxiliary. She reacted to the much-touted "Bundles for Britain" movement by establishing a counter-fund called "Bundles for America." She raised approximately $4 million to aid the families of U.S. servicemen overseas.

Adelaide continued traveling after her husband retired from Eastern Airlines in 1963. They made a number of memorable trips to the Orient and, after Eddie died, Adelaide traveled to Peru.

In her obituary, run by numerous newspapers throughout the United States in February, 1977, William Rickenbacker credited his mother with saving Capt. Eddie's life three times. After his near-fatal airplane crash in February 1941, Eddie was in critical condition at Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital. Adelaide awoke with the thought, "Eddie needs me," and found him struggling for breath--his oxygen bottle was empty. Adelaide roused the dozing nurse who fixed the problem.

Less than eighteen months later, Eddie was lost in the Pacific for twenty-four days after his B-17 transport overshot its island destination. The Air Corps halted the search after a futile two weeks, but Adelaide demanded that General "Hap" Arnold continue the search. Ten days later, Eddie and the B-17 crew were discovered.

Finally, Eddie suffered a stroke in 1972 that left him in a coma. Although he had left a "living will," Adelaide refused to allow him to die, and worked with Eddie and his doctors to aid his recovery. A few months after Eddie's stroke, he accompanied Adelaide to Switzerland to have her failing vision treated. Unfortunately, he suffered a fatal heart attack, and she did not regain her sight. Blind and in failing health, Adelaide shot herself to death with a .32 caliber pistol at her Key Biscayne, Florida, home on February 2, 1977.

For more on Adelaide Frost Rickenbacker, see Eddie Rickenbacker: An American Hero in the Twentieth Century by W. David Lewis, Johns Hopkins Press, 2005.