YVONNE McTernan may have been labeled a ‘typical Irish beauty’ back in 1950 but to her family, she was anything but typical.
Born on October 31, 1928, in Ennis, she was the daughter of the late Michael and Ellen McTernan. At 20 years of age, Yvonne was selected as one of Aer Lingus’ first air hostesses in 1948 before being picked, two years later, by American photographer and artist Ben Stahl as what he considered a typical Irish beauty.
Mr Stahl was travelling around Europe at the time painting women who he believed represented ‘typical’ beauty from that country.
“The only thing she ever said was there was an announcement made and she was chosen,” Yvonne’s daughter, Laura, explained.
“Ben Stahl was trying to find a forum to vet the young girls to choose. He was told to go to Aer Lingus because they had already gone through a strict selection process. The air hostesses were in an elite group because they also had respectability. How many of us would get jobs today? Because this was not based on your intelligence, it was based on how refined you were and the ability to do your job with dignity. She was also an air hostess for first class. She had to walk a very fine line. It was not an easy job spending all that time in a cabin with people and having to keep them happy all the time. Mr Stahl interviewed a group of Aer Lingus hostesses because Aer Lingus, at that time, used to say they got the best of Ireland,” she added.
The Sarasota Herald Tribune from December 8, 1950 quotes Mr Stahl in a British newspaper explaining what made the young Ennis woman the epitome of Irish beauty.
“Colouring: very Irish that peach pink that has a healthy glow. Eyes: Deep grey. Face: Oval and soft, a nice Celtic shape. Hair: Nut brown with a touch of red…A good Irish average.”
The article describes Yvonne as “8st 9lb, 5ft 6ins tall” and notes that she worked at the time on the Dublin – Isle of Man route.
The 22-year-old was quoted as having told the British newspaper, “I’ve had an uneventful life up to now and I’d like to go on with that”.
This comment resonates with Laura.
“She was so grounded, my mom. She used to always say that anyone can give you a compliment or an insult and if you don’t know who you are, you know nothing. I did a eulogy at her funeral. She was clear that if you know what you think about your looks and who you are, then no one can take it away from you and it is yours to hold. She always said that, my whole life.”
Although she lived for decades in the United States, Yvonne was married to Thomas Campobasso in Clare.
“My dad was from New York City. They met in Ennis. My dad was the vice-president for Pan Am overseas and my mom was an air hostess for Aer Lingus. She was asked to hostess an international aviation party. My dad always said that he never made it through the receiving line because she was in it. They married in Ennis and their wedding cake was topped with an air plane. They moved to Germany and then on to Seattle, Washington, 59 years ago,” Laura outlined.
Despite living initially on the West Coast of America and later in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Ireland remained hugely important for Yvonne McTernan Campobasso.
“Around my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, they were asked what would make them truly successful. My mom said having a house in Ireland. So they bought a home in Killarney and she would host all her sisters there and have big parties. She just came to life when she was there,” recalled Laura.
“My mom lived in New Mexico for a long time and my father passed away roughly 18 years ago so she wanted to move nearer to one of her children so she moved next to my sister. My mom loved family and it defined her. She loved her sisters, loved Ireland and loved being with us. Being in Ireland, she missed us and if she was here, she missed Ireland. The only time she felt at peace was with all her sisters in Killarney and one of us visiting because she felt she had a little bit of everything then,” she concluded.
Yvonne McTernan Campobasso recently passed away at the age of 83 in Lafayette, California. She was predeceased by her husband, Thomas Campobasso, and her sisters, Patricia Lambert, Francis Cantrell, Elizabeth Claydon, Maeve Hanly, Joan O’Connor and Beatrice McTernan.
Yvonne is survived by her sister, Nell Foster-Smith of Ennis; her six children Tom, Karl, Michelle, Rick, Laura and Christina Campobasso and their spouses residing in the United States; many grandchildren; great-grandchildren; nieces and nephews.
A private family service was held in Oakland, California at the Chapel of the Chimes, where she and her husband are together resting in peace.