Widow of Gus Gris­som sued NASA con­trac­tor


Betty Lavonne Gris­som, who suc­cess­fully sued a NASA con­trac­tor af­ter her hus­band, Vir­gil “Gus” Gris­som, and two other as­tro­nauts died in the 1967 Apollo launch pad fire, has died. She was 91.

Mark Gris­som, 63, said Wednesday that his mother had been in good health be­fore her un­ex­pected death Sun­day at her Hous­ton home. He said fu­neral plans hadn’t been fi­nal­ized, but his mother will be buried at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery, where his father is in­terred.

Betty and Gus Gris­som met in high school in the south­ern In­di­ana city of Mitchell and mar­ried in 1945. He later grad­u­ated from Pur­due Univer­sity and went on to be­come one of the seven orig­i­nal Mer­cury as­tro­nauts.

In July 1961, Gus Gris­som be­came the sec­ond Amer­i­can in space. But fol­low­ing his suc­cess­ful 15-minute sub­or­bital flight, Gris­som nearly drowned when his cap­sule landed in the At­lantic Ocean and sank af­ter the hatch blew off pre­ma­turely.

Gus Gris­som was 40 when he died on Jan. 27, 1967, along with fel­low as­tro­nauts Roger Chaf­fee and Ed White, when an elec­tri­cal fire broke out in­side the Apollo 1 com­mand mod­ule dur­ing test­ing at the Kennedy Space Cen­ter in Florida.

Betty Gris­som, left wid­owed with two sons, filed a wrong­ful-death law­suit against the Apollo pro­gram’s prime con­trac­tor, North Amer­i­can Rock­well. She won a $350,000 set­tle­ment in 1972 that would be worth nearly $3 mil­lion to­day if ad­justed for in­fla­tion, said Ron­ald D. Krist, the Hous­ton at­tor­ney who han­dled that case.

De­spite crit­i­cism from some within NASA for su­ing, Krist said Betty Gris­som was de­ter­mined to pro­ceed with her quest for com­pen­sa­tion for her hus­band’s death.

“What she did wasn’t the most pop­u­lar thing that a NASA widow could do, but she nev­er­the­less felt that her hus­band’s life was taken need­lessly,” Krist said Wednesday. “She got nasty notes from some of the ex­ec­u­tives at NASA, but she kept stead­fast in her be­liefs and showed a lot of courage and grit. She never wa­vered.”

Mark Gris­som, who lives in Mus­tang, Ok­la­homa, said his mother never re­mar­ried. Her other sur­vivors in­clude his older brother Scott, two grand­chil­dren, and her late hus­band’s two brothers, Low­ell and Nor­man Gris­som.

“She was strong-willed and she was out­spo­ken. She’ll be missed by her friends and fam­ily,” he said.


Vir­gil “Gus” Gris­som is re­united with his wife, Betty, and sons Scott (left) and Mark at Cape Kennedy, Florida, af­ter his three-or­bit flight on March 25, 1965.

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