ORBIS volunteer flight engineer Gil Chase died July 28. He had been an ORBIS volunteer flight engineer for eight years.
As a pilot for United, the airline that donated ORBIS’s first aircraft, Gil had been aware of ORBIS's sight saving work for many years. When presented with the opportunity to become a volunteer for the non-profit in 2000, just a year before his retirement, he jumped at the chance.
Gil Chase with a young friend
Gil quickly proved himself to be more than a pilot. He was a coordinator, diplomat, confidante and father-figure.
"Gil Chase was an extraordinarily kind and caring man who was much loved by everyone who came into contact with him at ORBIS," said ORBIS Executive Director and CEO Geoffrey Holland. "Nothing was too much trouble for Gil. He epitomized the spirit of this organization. He was always willing to help anyone do anything, and we shall miss him and his tireless enthusiasm enormously."
Flying the plane just one part of the job
Although Gil’s primary role was to fly the aircraft from one destination to another, Gil also took part in the pre-work necessary for the
Hospital. This included on-site coordination with local airport, security and customs officials.
He also took part in the challenging first day of screening patients for surgery. He could be seen helping set up examination rooms, escorting patients, entertaining children and fetching cups of water for ORBIS medical volunteers.
“Screening day is very demanding on the medical staff,” he had said. “If we, the pilots, are able to help pick up some of the slack by being gophers or cleaning, we’re happy to do it.”
Gil’s daughter Christina, who had volunteered with her father for the
Hospital, noted that, “On my first ORBIS program with Dad, he finished his pilot duties and quickly shed his uniform. ‘There are toilets to be cleaned,’ he said, recruiting Mom and me with a laugh. In a matter of minutes, the documentary film crew and volunteer faculty were picking up cleaning rags as well to pitch in.”
Gil’s outgoing nature and interest in other people’s lives enabled him to make friends quickly and easily. He was often termed ORBIS’s ambassador at large, smoothing out airport difficulties and giving tours of the
Hospital to anyone who asked.
Gil recounted the time he accomplished both with the head of airport security in a remote part of
“We finished up our work after a few hours and he finally said to me, ‘I’m not sure if you remember me but four years ago, when I was a customs officer, I asked to see the plane. After a long day of surgeries you came in and got me and gave me a private tour. I’ve never forgotten that.’”
“It could be the president of the country, a school group or a member of the airport cleaning crew,” said
Brooke Johnson, ORBIS associate director of global communications and branding, and former
Hospital communications specialist. “If they showed an interest, Gil would take them onboard and give them the tour.”
A soft spot for children
ORBIS Communications Manager Perry Athanason met Gil in
Myanmar during Gil's last Flying Eye Hospital program in February 2008.
"Gil not only flew the plane, landing us safely in
Myanmar, but joined us for screening day," Perry said. "You should have seen him playing with the kids, making toy airplanes for them and carrying them from the waiting area to the clinic and through the screening process. The smiles on those kid’s faces, and Gil’s, was priceless.
"His involvement, that is to say his heart for ORBIS and the people it serves, shined through in every moment he was around. Always there to lend a hand, help a fellow volunteer or staff member and to make sure that the patients were as comfortable as they could possibly be. In an organization filled with so many good-hearted, spirited and nurturing souls, Gil Chase definitely shined brightly among the best of the best."
“Gil was a true friend of those who needed help," added Ken Burnham, who worked with Gil for several years as a fellow volunteer pilot as well as ORBIS director of aircraft operations. "Everything Gil did at ORBIS was driven by his desire to help the blind. When Gil was faced with a decision his first question was, "Which solution will help the most kids see?"
Father-figure to flight crew
Gil Chase was more than a pilot to the crew on board the Flying Eye Hospital, stated Caroline Bergman,
Hospital communications manager from 2005-2007. He was a father figure. “Without Gil, we couldn’t have accomplished as much as we did. He was integral to our work and truly part of the ORBIS family.”
"For ORBIS, Gil was much more than a volunteer," said Mohan Thazhathu, ORBIS chief operating officer. "He embodied the spirit of ORBIS and gave so much. He will be missed dearly."
Gil is survived by his wife, Pat, and two daughters, Christina and Kelly. Two memorial services were scheduled for Gil. One was held in
Lewiston, Idaho, on August 1; the other will take place in
Colorado, on August 9.
If you would like to share your thoughts, pictures or anecdotes with Gil’s family, please send them to Brooke Johnson, ORBIS associate director of global communications and branding, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Brooke at +1 646-361-0061.