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Remembering Cliff Robertson (1923 – 2011)

Cliff Robertson

Cliff Robertson

September 9, 1923 – September 10, 2011
Enshrined in 2006

It is with a heavy heart that the National Aviation Hall of Fame reacts to news of 2006 enshrinee Cliff Robertson’s passing. He died from natural causes on Saturday, September 10th, just a day after his 88th birthday. Cliff’s passion for sharing his love of flying with everyone he met is well documented, and includes using his talent, time and treasure to aid his fellow man, sometimes a world away. We encourage you to visit the NAHF biography of Cliff that was posted here at the time of his enshrinement in July of 2006.
We were fortunate that Cliff’s involvement with the Hall of Fame included blessing us with his presence, in Dayton and elsewhere, dozens of times over many decades. Today we share our look back at some of those memorable visits as the NAHF bids Godspeed to one of the most colorful and unforgettable true characters of aviation, and a man of true character.

It was a rare occasion when Cliff did not grace the podium of the annual enshrinement ceremony to conclude it with a dramatic reading of the poem “High Flight.” Often he would precede this reading with an original poem relevant to the fraternity of his cherished fellow aviators. His many trips to the Birthplace of Aviation, typically flying from home in New York to Dayton in his own beloved Beech Baron, were mutually enjoyed by thousands over the years. It was ever obvious that the aviation community was one that Cliff adored and was proud to contribute his talents to.

Cliff Robertson

For many years at Oshkosh, the EAA provided the NAHF exhibit space at which to promote our SkyReach Education Program, our Learning Center and enshrinees’ legacies, and membership campaign. Cliff, who attended Oshkosh regularly and served as the very first Honorary Chairman of the EAA’s Young Eagle’s initiative, always made a point to stop by the NAHF display, spending his valuable time meeting with our volunteers and booth visitors of all ages. Soon he would be posing for photos and signing autographs, always gracious and patient, all too often while enduring the 100-degree temperatures of the exhibit hall.

In December of 2005, Cliff happily assisted the Hall of Fame in leading a celebration of the DC-3’s 70th anniversary at Santa Monica Airport with fellow enshrinees and friends, Bob Hoover and Buzz Aldrin. This celebration also of enshrinee Donald Douglas included a flyover led by “Duggy the DC-3,” the bright yellow aircraft then completing its coast-to-coast SkyReach promotional tour for the NAHF. Cliff warmly embraced his Hall of Fame “role” as a dual-celebrity, of both the Hollywood and the aviation community. Deftly and charmingly he handled the media and spectators at this historic public event and others, truly an exemplary ambassador of the Hall of Fame.

Clay Lacy and Cliff Robertson

Cliff was justifiably very proud of his nearly 100 major motion roles over the span of a long, respected acting career that included earning an Oscar for his 1968 role in “Charly.” So we were additionally blessed to have his enthusiastic participation and formidable talent onstage at the creation of the annual Reel Stuff Film Festival of Aviation in 2008. Reel Stuff patrons were in awe as he shared behind-the-scenes remembrances of filming “633 Squadron,” in which he starred as a RAF Mosquito squadron commander. In 2009 he returned to present “The Pilot,” a 1980 movie about an airline captain in which he both directed and starred, and which featured the aerial cinematography of his close friend (and a 2010 enshrinee), Clay Lacy, who joined him onstage for the screening. Cliff then served as the Honorary Chairman of the 3rd Annual Reel Stuff in 2010, however was unable to attend at the last minute due to his courageous battle with the ongoing health issues that eventually took his life yesterday.

Cliff was a proud parent, pilot, poet and patriot – an alliteration that would not escape the self-effacing wit of the talented writer and thespian, but is no less fact. Of more significance to Cliff is that the National Aviation Hall of Fame will proudly continue to share his rich aviation legacy – and his passionate advocacy for flight – with many more generations still to come.

We have on countless occasions heartily expressed our gratitude to Cliff for his service to us and to aviation overall. Regrettably, the opportunity to thank him one last time has eluded us. He would no doubt humbly acknowledge that the Hall of Fame will remember Cliff Robertson fondly and with heartfelt appreciation, for his contributions, encouragement and generosity, but also for his loyal friendship.

We will miss you, but we will never forget you, Cliff Robertson. Blue skies and tailwinds forever, dear friend, as you now put out your hand and touch the face of God.