Remembering A Good Friend

by Phil Spaugy

Stan Verrill with his son Harley at the 2003 Dayton Airshow

Stan Verrill with his son Harley at the 2003 Dayton Airshow

Today’s blog post is a departure from my normal subjects, but it’s a story of a person who was close to my heart, as well as the tale of a life well-lived.

This past Thursday I received one of those messages that as I grow older seem to arrive much too often. I opened an email from my old friend Debbie Brooker informing me that her father, Stanley Verrill, had passed away on July 2nd in his native state of Maine. Stan was 97.

I first met Stan in the fall of 1971, it was my junior year in high school and Debbie and I had just started dating. What I remember most was how he and his wife Genevieve [who passed away in 2001] warmly welcomed me into their home. Tall and strongly built, Stan exhibited the stoic, no-nonsense demeanor that one would expect from a son of the “Pine Tree State.” And while he could be quite intimating, especially to a young man of 17 who was dating his only daughter, I soon discovered that he had a sharp sense of humor and loved telling a good joke. He was blessed with one of the nicest grins that often would blossom into the most brilliant, heartwarming smile that I have ever known.

As a member of our “Greatest Generation,” Stan served in the Army Air Corps as a flight engineer on Boeing B-17’s during World War II, flying and fighting with the “Mighty 8th” Air Force in the European Theater of Operations. He also saw service with one of the few U.S.A.A.F. units  that operated the fast and stealthy DeHaviland Mosquito. Returning from his war service, Stan soon married Genny, settled in Vandalia, Ohio, and started raising a family of two boys [Harley and Andy] and daughter Debbie. He took a job working at nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base from which he retired in the early 1970’s. For a young man with an interest in both aviation and history, the time I spent looking through his photo albums and talking about his war experiences were simply priceless.

Stan Verrill with a B-17 F of the 8th USAAF. Stan is standing second from the right.

Stan Verrill with a B-17 F of the 8th USAAF. Stan is standing second from the right. Photo courtesy of Deborah Brooker, Stan’s daughter.

Retirement did not suit Stan well and he soon took a job at Aviation Sales, Inc. [ASI], a fixed based operator on Dayton International Airport. His position was that of a janitor, but he quickly became the company handyman. [I very much doubt that any company ever had a more intelligent or competent “janitor” than Stan!] As for me, I was still dating Debbie, and in the spring of my senior year [1973] I found myself out of work and soon to graduate high school with a stunning GPA of 2.4. That anemic level of academic achievement, coupled with a complete lack of interest in attending college, had me pretty much adrift. Fortunately for me, Stan told me that ASI had an opening for an aircraft lineman, a job I applied for, and in large part thanks to Stan’s good word I was soon hired. On April 27, 1973 I started my career in aviation at a company that since 1988 I have been a very proud co-owner of.

By 1974, Debbie had gone off to college, and I was still pumping gas into airplanes at ASI and struggling to figure out just what I was going to do with my life. During this period I spent a lot of time working with Stan. I learned much from him and benefited greatly, not only from his wise advice but his friendship. He gave me the incentive to take some college classes in Aviation Management at a local community college and also to get my pilot’s license. Simply put, without his friendship and guidance my life would be much different from what it is today. In 1978, Stan retired from ASI. He and his beloved Genny soon moved back to Maine where they built a beautiful house on the banks of the Penobscot River near Winterport.

After his move to Maine, we stayed in touch on an infrequent basis. In 1995 I made a trip to Maine with my boys and their mother [my ex-wife] to see Stan and Genevieve, who even with his bum knees made sure we saw all the sights. On several occasions Stan would visit Dayton, often flying in with his son, Harley, who owned and flew a Cessna Cardinal. It was always a great pleasure to see him and to catch up on old times. He took a great interest in how ASI was getting along, and seem to take a bit of well-deserved pride in my ownership and success with the business. Stanley was one of those people who seemed never to age. As the years rolled by Debbie did a great job of emailing and keeping me informed on how he was getting along. Several years ago he had finally been moved to a nursing home, and while he suffered some “miseries” with his knees and hearing, he was still pretty sharp for his age. Sadly, as is often the case, Amy and I were planning to go to Massachusetts in August, and while there I was going to take a trip up to Bangor and visit with him. Oh, how I regret not making that trip much sooner!

So the last several days have been filled full of fond memories, some sadness, a few regrets, and a great thankfulness that in my youth I had the privilege and good fortune of knowing Stan Verrill. I have found that as I grow older, and as the heroes and icons of  my youth pass, I tend to feel that much older. Years ago Stan Verrill, by the simplest gestures of friendship, counsel, and time, made a big difference in a young man’s life. I only hope that I can keep his legacy alive by doing the same. I figure that my old friend Stan would like that.