A pilot’s life, a pilot’s wife, a pilot’s widow

by Terri Patrick

Oregon Author

A pilot’s wife often has the opportunities for great photo shots whether from the ground or in the skies. Ed and I have been part of an Experimental Aircraft Association chapter the fifteen years we’ve been in Oregon.

One man, Gary, was the heart and soul of this chapter, a professional aviator, mechanic, and trainer. He served as president and vice president of the chapter and submitted monthly articles to the newsletter on his flying adventures, mostly with his wife Martha. An adorable couple, Martha’s adventures now are over as Gary was the passenger of a fatal crash the end of June.

One thing a pilot’s spouse has is a widow’s list. Pilots, especially experimental pilots, are living their passion. They choose the experimental and light sport craft because they are aware of every rivet and bolt on their airplanes. They prefer to be their own primary mechanic than to trust their life and passion to a paid worker who leaves empty coffee cups in the cockpit.

Pilots always talk with their hands because the stories they tell include maneuvers over tree tops and canyons. Experimental fliers usually walk away from a crash and then rebuild their craft, more than once.  Fatalities in experimental aircraft are very rare, but they do happen.

Years ago, a large group of us were at a fly-in/camp-out at a coastal airport. This airport is a large, cleared space of rough grass with a long paved strip on one side and campsites in the trees on the other side. There’s no “tower” and the campsites feature a picnic table and a fire pit with a grill cover. The airport facilities include one spigot for running water next to a port-a-pottie. A state run campground is only a half mile walk and the Pacific ocean is a short hike over the dunes. The approach for landing airplanes is over Nehalem Bay.

The fly-in/camp out was an annual event and one year my friend and I took a survey of the 30 or more couples/families attending to see if there were any astrological aspects that related to pilots. What we learned was pilots span the spectrum of the four basic elements of astrology. It didn’t seem to matter if their sun sign was earth, air, fire, or water. Every element was represented as having a passion to fly in the sky. But, all the pilot’s spouses were either earth or air signs. This means a pilot has a partner in the skies, or someone to keep them grounded to the earth.

I think Martha represented the air element, and Gary was a fire sign. He was a leader, known among his friends as “Mr. Pilot” as general aviation was the whole focus of his career and his passion. He gave workshops on center-of-gravity, air-density-altitude, and every aspect of safety in the skies and aircraft maintenance. He was a stickler for details and the nicest, most soft spoken gentleman I’ve had the privilege to know. He always greeted me with a sincere and warm hug. Martha was always the delightful and cuddly woman standing at his side.

Gary was only 61. As the passenger, he knew the moment the pilot of the aircraft made the fatal mistake. Gary did not live to tell the tale. And now Martha will be implementing her widow’s list, whatever may be on it. And as I only saw her at annual fly-in events, the last time I see her will probably be at Gary’s memorial service.

Some people only come into our lives for sporadic events or a short space of time. But their purpose to our lives has made a difference even when we are just a face in the crowd of their life.

Thank you, Gary and Martha.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,

I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew –

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untresspassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941

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