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A Worldly Woman 'Who Knew How to Dress, Shop and Look Elegant' : Ill-Fated Burma Trip Is Laguna Traveler's Last

October 13, 1987|DAVID REYES | Times Staff Writer

Constance Shepherd often carried books on her world travels. During her ill-fated final trip, the 60-year-old homemaker from Laguna Beach took "The Burma Survivor Guide."

"She was always reading and studying books on each country she was to visit," her husband, Vance Shepherd, said Monday.

Shepherd sat in the family room of the couple's home just above the Pacific Ocean with his son and a family friend talking about his wife of 37 years who was among the 49 people killed Sunday in an airplane crash in Burma.

"We haven't heard too much about what happened. One report said the plane crashed after taking off. Another said it crashed before landing. We're waiting for more information from the State Department, especially what to do about claiming her body," Shepherd said.

According to news reports, a Fokker Friendship F-27 twin-prop plane belonging to the government-owned Burma Airways Corp. crashed shortly before its scheduled landing near the Burmese city of Pagan. Among the 49 who died in the crash were 13 other Americans. There were no survivors.

Shepherd, president of El Centro Foods, a North Hollywood company that owns and operates the Pizza Man chain in Southern California, said his wife left last Tuesday from Los Angeles International Airport on a three-week tour that began in Bangkok, Thailand. She left Bangkok last week and boarded a Burmese flight, her husband said, for a scheduled one-week visit to Burma that was to begin in Pagan.

"You can only go into Burma one day a week and you can stay only one week. And the flight has to be aboard one of the few domestic planes they have," said their son James, 30.

She would travel with friends, but if none was available, she would think nothing of going alone. She was described by one friend as a worldly woman who knew "how to dress, shop and look elegant."

"She had traveled the world. One of her favorite spots was the bar at the Regent Hotel at sunset in Hong Kong," said traveling companion Josie Lewis of Surfside.

"Connie, that's what her friends called her, knew where to go. She would research everything and even head for out-of-the-way places like Sri Lanka and Nepal," said Lewis, who had planned to meet Mrs. Shepherd in Bangkok this week but canceled.

In recent years, Shepherd said his wife had gone to Thailand, China, India, Singapore and Japan and through a combination of books and personal travels had gained an insight into cultural aspects of each country.

"She was particularly fascinated with the Far East, including the people and the culture," said Pat Wells of Laguna Hills, who accompanied Mrs. Shepherd to China last year. "She knew a little bit of the language, that is, she knew enough of Chinese to get by. But she knew everything about the customs of each country," Wells said.

With each trip, she would bring back her acquisitions. A jet-black hand-carved wooden room divider from China adorned one section of the living room. A clock with intricate carvings sat on one table. An antique Oriental treasure chest with brass fittings occupied a prominent spot on the family room rug, Shepherd said.

"Even if she got sick, it wouldn't stop her," Shepherd said. "During a boat cruise up the Yangtze River in China, she got deathly sick. The cruise lasted one week and there was no medicine or drugs on board. She survived by taking a folk cure with herbs and even acupuncture. But she didn't get off, and she didn't (immediately) come back. She kept traveling."

Her friend Wells said: "Yes, her death is sad. But you know, she was doing what she wanted to do and traveling where she wanted to be."

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