Owen Gassaway, Florida aviation legend, dies at 83

Owen Gassaway Sr.’s name is synonymous with aviation in Palm Beach County, Fla. In fact, the Lantana Airport Terminal where he plied his trade since 1942 bears his name: the Owen H. Gassaway Aviation Center. Gassaway died Dec. 29. He was 83.

His love of aviation started when, as a child, he flew model airplanes on Morrison Field, which later became Palm Beach International Airport. He started working as an aircraft mechanic for the airport and the Civil Air Patrol after graduating from Palm Beach High School. During World War II, he enlisted in the Army and served with Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army as a tank mechanic and driver. It was during his stint at Fort Dix in New Jersey that he met his wife, Alice Hilton.

The couple returned to Florida and the airport in 1945. He went on to start Florida Airmotive Inc., an aircraft maintenance, airport administration and charter flying company. Over the years, the company’s fleet of 23 airplanes flew 1 million passengers to the Caribbean. For years, his company also was the largest distributor of Beechcraft airplanes in the country.

Gassaway served on several boards and commissions. He also was director of the Florida Aero Club and started the Scout Aviation Explorers Post at Lantana.

He also was a strong supporter of the Young Eagles program, and even owned a Cessna 172, dedicated to that purpose, with the tail number N3YE.

In 1996 he was awarded the FAA’s Charles Taylor Award, presented for 50 years of continuous service in aircraft maintenance. That same year the airport terminal was named for him.

A scholarship has been established in his memory for the Boynton Aerospace Science Academy program at Boynton Beach High School.

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