Words have power and can hit you with all the force of a knockout punch.
Production day at the newspaper is frenzied at best as a deadline looms and your eyes are ever fixed on the clock.
So, when the press release hit my computer about an airplane crash in Orange County I scanned it quickly and then my eyes gazed on one of the fatalities – John Joseph Quinn, Jr.
That can’t be JJ Quinn. I had just seen him fairly recently. He had popped in the office with some aerial photos that he had taken of the new hangars at the airport. I’d also seen him just a few weeks ago at a new gathering at Reformation Lutheran Church started by Al Aitken and Pastor Brad Hales.
I choked up and then shouted out to our graphic designer, Jeff Say. It’s JJ. He’s died in a plane crash.
Disbelief quickly turned to reality.
The sun was shining outside but our souls and spirits took a hit as we scrambled to continue the business of getting a paper out with the news that one of our favorite folks would no longer grace our offices.
Named Virginia’s AFMA (Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic) 2015 Pilot of the Year, J.J. had a large fan base including Lynn and Tom Neviaser. I can remember attending several gatherings of the Founding Fathers Republican Women. Lynn would sing his praises and often family members would attend to attest to J.J.’s care as he piloted loved ones for cancer treatments in Boston or other cities.
“We are teary also. So very sad,” she said. “This news is devastating to all of us. I worked closely with JJ to raise funds for his beloved Angel Flight. He gave his all to those whom he served, not just by flying them to places of hope, but by ministering to them also. All who spent time with him loved him dearly and cherished his friendship.”
According to the Virginia State Police report, they were notified Tuesday afternoon of a plane crash in the the 1,000 block of Tinder Lane in Orange County. The plane was a 2007 Jihlavan KP 5 ASA, fixed-wing, single-engine aircraft, and was classified as experimental. There were two confirmed fatalities: the pilot, Charles Neal Caldwell, 57, of Apopka, Fla., and passenger as John Joseph Quinn Jr., 81, of Culpeper, Va.
On-site manager at Culpeper Regional Airport Tanya Woodward sent me her comments reflecting on a life now lost but one always remembered.
“It is with great sadness that I share with everyone the passing of J.J. Quinn, Tuesday, May 24th, in a small plane crash in Orange County. J.J. was a true ambassador of our airport and aviation as a whole. He volunteered with numerous aviation groups including Angel Flight, Patient Airlift Services, Pilots for PAWS, NBAA, NATA and many others. J.J. will always be considered as one of our Founding Fathers here at CJR as his 90 unit t-hangar complex was the push-start that the airport needed to be on its way. For many years he has flight instructed with White Hawk Aviation, continued his aerial photography business and re-ignited his love of ham radio. As can be echoed by many of you, J.J. will be truly missed as he is and always will be a friend and mentor. J.J. has immortalized himself here at the airport with the t-hangar complex and the wonderful individuals that he attracted to the airport,” said Tanya.
Mike Dale, a fellow pilot, supporter of the airport and instrumental in the success of the annual Culpeper AirFest was likewise sick at heart.
“JJ was a consummate gentleman. A wonderful friend, kind, generous and warm hearted. His enthusiasm for aviation touched everyone around him and had not abated with age. I flew several check flights with him over the years and, while his approach was typically low key, his disciplines in the air soon challenged you to use every aspect of your aircraft’s performance and made you hone your skills,” said Dale, adding, “His work with Angel Flight and other volunteer organisations brought well deserved national recognition and, not surprisingly, it was JJ who volunteered to fly Mike Ginter and I out to persuade the DAV to let us use their name to dedicate the Potomac Flight. He was always ready to help.It was JJ who had the courage to build the first set of hangars at CJR when no one else thought they were viable. When the County asked him to sell them back to the county he agreed instantly with all the grace that was such a strong characteristic of his life. Life was always about other people, not him, and this will live in the memory of everyone who ever knew JJ.”
“The last entry in my logbook written by JJ was 3/31/16. I shall always cherish that last flight with him,” said a saddened Dale. “Culpeper has lost a treasure beyond replacement.”
Frankie Gilmore has known JJ for years.
“Where do I start, he’s been a friend of a family forever,” Frankie Gilmore, director of the Piedmont Soap Box Derby said. “He hung out with my older brother and sisters in the 1960s. He flew with my dad (the late Joe Troilo) and they always hung out at the airport. I grew up around JJ. He always had a smile on his face and he always asked ‘what can I do for you.’ He did so much for the Soap Box Derby that people aren’t aware of. He touched so many lives with Angel Flight. It’s such a tragic loss, it’s going to leave a void.”
Al Aitken, another fellow pilot, knows that flying is not without risk.
“It appears JJ went flying with someone at the Culpeper airport to help him learn about his new airplane he had just bought. JJ was like that…always helping out others…even inexperienced pilots,” said Aitken who speculated that perhaps a mechanical problem brought them closer to the ground. “An NTSB investigation is underway. We won’t know for a while,” said Aitken. “We’re all so sad.”
Aitken shared an old adage in the flying community…”Flying is not inherently dangerous…but it is totally unforgiving of the tiniest mistake.”
JJ received his wings in 1957 as a flight student for the US Navy. He served as a pilot flying with VP-11 Squadron in Brunswick, Maine flying P2V Neptunes and with the Navy six fleet in Malta and Rota, Spain.
He later served as a flight instructor in T28s at Pensacola, Florida until 1962.
Sadness, that’s the powerful word on this Wednesday as I pen these words. Sadness and yet a good feeling if that’s possible knowing that he died doing what he did best – serving others in the sky.
Visitation will be held at Found and Sons from 5 to 8 pm on Friday night. Saturday Service at 11 am at Found and Sons, Pastor Jeff Light will preside. JJ will be buried on Saturday afternoon in Fairfax next to his wife.