by Bob Draffin
While it would be impossible for me to summarize the 94 years of my friend George Mitchell's life in this short space, everyone who knew him would agree that he was both a role model and a Gentlemen's Gentleman. He was a proud WWII Veteran, a Bayport Aerodrome Society Founder, a Sayville Yacht Club member and a proud Congregant of the Bayport Methodist Church. A spiritual man, George taught bible study and was an avid horologist (clock maker). A pilot and aviation enthusiast, George was a member of both the Long Island Early Fliers and the Antique Airplane Club of Greater NY. And where I got to know him best, George was a Charter member of the Bayport Civic Association, the recipient of the 1stAnnual BCA Civic Pride Award and a mentor to me throughout.
Legend has it that George piloted a plane before ever driving a car. He spoke calmly of an emergency landing of his newly bought plane in the Long Island Sound and swimming to safety. Or the time he was hopelessly trapped above cloud cover, running out of gas and had to put his plane into a spin, descending through the clouds in hopes of finding a safe landing below. George always put his fate in the hands of the Lord and it served him well all through his days. George's aviation exploits took him all the way to the moon, where as a Grumman engineer he worked on the Apollo 11 lunar excursion module (LEM)!
George's love of flight dated back in the mid 1940’s. He married his wife ofsome sixty years, the late Rigmor (Re), and initially settled in East Patchogue. After winning a Scholarship in Physics to Adelphi College, they moved to Carle Place and began raising their three children, John, Kirsten and Paul. Soon after graduating, in 1960 George decided he wanted to move his Family back east, and sold his wife on a beautiful little town called Bayport. While Re initially thought of Bayport as a nice place, she couldn’t quite figure out George’s insistence on living there. However, she would shortly learn George’s little secret, that Bayport had its own Airport!
Through the years, George enjoyed his flying and all that Bayport had to offer. Then in the mid 70’s word was out that the Edwards Family wished to sell the airport, and developers were interested in the property. George and his fellow pilots sprung into action forming the Bayport Aerodrome Society whose mission was to preserve and protect early-20thcentury aviation at a representative turf airport, in an effort to save this jewel. By 1977, the Aerodrome Society succeeded in persuading the town of Islip to buy the airport and keep it in its existing form, with a special thanks to then Supervisor Peter Cohalan.
Fast forward then to 2002 when the rumors again started that the Aerodrome might be sold to developers. That’s when the surrounding neighbors like myself, my wife Janet, Sue Lauper, Rich Wyeroski and Bob and Mary Smith began to meet to discuss ways to once again save our Aerodrome. I had known George through his son Paul who I went to high school with and later as a fellow member of the SYC, but it was his connection with Aerodrome Society that led us to reach out to him for his help. By the time we held our first meeting at the BBP Library in 2003, George had enlisted several Aerodrome Pilots to attend and lend their support. Pilots like Gene Leavy and Harry Gunther would become longstanding members of the BCA. George Chaired “The Preservation of the Aerodrome Committee”, our number one Agenda item since day one and still is. Needless to say, we were victorious in saving the Aerodrome once again and have since added another layer of protection by gaining National Registry of Historic Places status in 2008. The hope is that we’ll always have this Crown Jewel to cherish, but that is due in no small part to the efforts of George Mitchell.
I'll always be grateful to George for always being the first one there to set up for our meetings and the last one to leave and turn out the lights. George helped us find a home at the Bayport Methodist Church after we had been wandering from place to place trying to hold our meetings. George was always my first call on the morning of meeting day, and I can never thank him enough for all his efforts.
George leaves behind his loving wife Constance and in addition to his three children, three cherished grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The family has asked that if anyone would care to make a donation in George's name that it be made to the Bayport United Methodist Church 482 Middle Rd. Bayport, New York 11705.
Godspeed George Mitchell.