September 11, 2011 – Cliff Robertson, the Academy Award-winning actor whose aviation passion helped lead the development and launch of EAA’s Young Eagles program, died Saturday on Long Island, New York, just one day after his 88th birthday.
Robertson (EAA 18529), who began flying at age 14 and had been an EAA member since 1964, helped launch the EAA Young Eagles program when he became the program’s first chairman in 1992. He and then-EAA President Tom Poberezny flew the first Young Eagles at the EAA Fly-In Convention at Oshkosh that year.
“Cliff believed in the program and was there at the beginning,” said Poberezny, now EAA Chairman Emeritus. “He was a man of great integrity who was an avid aviator and supportive EAA member. He could take the 26 letters of the alphabet and put them into something magnificent, both in spoken and written word. His passion and dedication to aviation will always be remembered.
“Cliff was one of the first people to use his celebrity status to help promote EAA, not just in Young Eagles, but for the entire organization. He did it without fanfare, but he was always there when asked.”
Robertson was the 1987 recipient of EAA’s Freedom of Flight Award, the organization’s highest honor. As the Young Eagles program developed in the early 1990s, he donated his acting talents to a short film titled “Young Eagle.” That film helped give visibility to the program that has become the world’s largest youth aviation education initiative, having flown 1.6 million young people since 1992.
He began his own flying career in southern California, biking more than 10 miles each way to a local airport for flying lessons, often paid for by working at the airport. He often recalled those experiences during his public presentations, especially to EAA and aviation audiences. His background also led him to fund the Cliff Robertson Airport Work Experience Program, which annually offers young people opportunities for summer internship at the EAA Aviation Center at Oshkosh.
Robertson also owned a number of aircraft through his life and was especially fond of vintage aircraft. He was at the controls of his Beech Baron on September 11, 2001, and recalled seeing the first smoke from the World Trade Center as he departed the New York area en route to California in his Baron.
Robertson’s acting career was highly recognized, as he was one of the few actors to earn both an Oscar for his movie work (Best actor in “Charly” in 1969) and an Emmy (in 1965 for his television appearance in “The Game” on the Chrysler Theater).
Funeral services are scheduled for Friday in East Hampton, N.Y.
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