Sixty years ago, Jane Marilley turned a passion for flying into what has become one of the oldest meeting planning companies in the country — Courtesy Associates.

Marilley founded the Washington, D.C.-based firm in 1947 as a telephone answering company, initially, acquiring it for $500. Soon, it became a conference and event planning firm, although she didn't have any experience as a planner when she landed her first job — planning the annual Wright Brothers memorial dinner. She got the job through contacts she made as an airplane pilot. You see, Marilley was not only a meetings pioneer, she flew airplanes. “She was learning to fly while running the business,” says Sheila Stampfli, Courtesy president, who worked under Marilley until Marilley died in 1976.

Her next big job also came about because of her avocation. Marilley helped her flight instructors publicize and organize a flight around the world. From her aviation experience, she applied the pilots' checklist to meeting planning, creating a step-by-step process that sounds elementary, but was groundbreaking back then, says Stampfli.

Today, Courtesy plans about 900 meeting annually. Marilley's “entrepreneurial spirit,” focus on the client, and “can-do” attitude course through the company today, says Stampfli.