I took the photo below of Robert Caldwell at Corvair College #40 in Texas. It was a beautiful sunny day at Mineola-Wisener airport. Robert brought his magnificent Corvair-Pietenpol out and parked it in a shady spot, and it was quickly surrounded by admiring builders, most of whom had never seen it before, nor met Robert before. In spite of the obvious quality of the work and the praise and attention it earned, Robert was still pretty quiet about the plane and gave modest answers to builders questions. He was that kind of guy. I had to lean on him a bit to even get him to stand in the picture with his bird. If you never had a chance to meet him, you can still get a good take on how relaxed he was by looking at his pose in the picture.
What few people present that day knew was Robert had just gotten out of the hospital, where he had gotten a grim cancer diagnosis. Nothing about his demeanor that day even hinted at this. It was sunny, we were at a great airport, and friendly people were on hand. It said a lot about Robert that he was there to enjoy the day, no matter what news he had received.
Robert and his wife Barbara came to Corvair College #21 in Barnwell SC, and this is where his Corvair was fired up for the first time. It put a big smile on his face, but it was Barbara who let the cat out of the bag and told everyone it was also Robert’s 70th birthday. There was a big hug in the prop blast that was a very popular picture.
They had a number of years of good times with the plane, but in the summer of 2017, Barbara lost her own health battle and passed away. It was a heavy blow, but one Robert took mostly to himself. When I saw him in Texas, he only spoke of it briefly, and only after no one else was present. He was neither pained nor private about it when he spoke, he just gave the feeling that some things are better spoken of in smaller settings.
A few weeks after the College, Robert made the decision that quality of his time was more important than the quantity. One of the things that was important to him was getting a bit more flying in. On his last flight, he asked Kevin Purtee to fly as his wingman in his own Pietenpol. When speaking of this later, Kevin said of the many things he has done in flight, this was among the most moving. After they landed, Robert put the plane he made, away for the last time. He was done, he had finished on his own terms.
After Robert was gone, Kevin and I spoke on the phone, and we kept coming back to the point that he was simply a good man, and its a compliment that was said about Robert without reservation. If you never had a chance to meet him, at least take this away from the mans life: If you play it all the way through on your own terms, and when its done you are simply spoken of as “A Good Man”, then the days of your life were well spent.
Blue Skies and Tailwinds Robert and Barbara.
5 Replies to “Farewell to a Good Man; Robert Caldwell departs.”
Over the years I have been a regular visitor to Robert’s hanger at Mineola-Wisener.
Mineola-Wisener is a special airport, and Robert’s hanger was a special place too.
He had a Stinson Voyager, and the Pietenpol under construction.
Robert’s hangar had that unique smell and feel of classic airplane plus wood and fabric homebuilt.
I consider myself fortunate to have spent a lot of hours with Robert talking life and airplanes in the shade of the trees next to his hanger or over burgers or barbecue.
Robert was a pleasure to be around and was most definitely “A Good Man”.
So many in our society worship the celebrity, the person who caught a ball, the beautiful, the rich and powerful. It’s a crazy thing. So much better to admire the person who quietly contributes to all around them and makes the world a better place to live. Living a life of simple courage and goodness is what we should be celebrating and trying to emulate. Thanks for sharing this with us.
I couldn’t say it any better. The world needs more like Robert Caldwell
I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet Robert at CC#40. I was so focused inside the hangar that missed out out on meeting this good man.
Impressive! What a guy! Thanks for sharing this.