A story that should have been told years ago

David Joseph Rushlow was an extraordinarily kind man. I never saw him without a smile on his face, and I never heard him say an unkind word to or about anyone. He often flew around with candy and a bag of toys for the airport kids in his Stinson 108, his Citabria, or the Stinson Reliant he affectionately called “Big Fred.”

I should have written about Dave years ago, and I am terribly sorry now that I did not. I can claim it was a testament of his good nature that every time we got together at 19A or at JZP, we always talked of flying or just went flying. Grass fields and $100 hamburgers beckoned. Interviews were for rainy days or for when we were too old to fly.

When Dave started visiting the Front Porch Gang in the 1990s, he arrived either in his lovely Stinson 108 or his Citabria. The Citabria was special to him. It was his dad’s. We often sat on the porch and discussed our flying adventures. Mine were few as my ticket was new. His were more plentiful as he came from a flying family in Michigan and he earned his license as a kid in a Champ.

Dave came often to JZP in those days and our gang welcomed him eagerly. He was very generous with his time and his donations at our doings. Dave once took an entire Saturday and drove his pressure washer over from his home (about a 30-minute flight but a two-hour drive), and prepped our building for new paint. Later, he donated new cabinets for our kitchenette. On Airport Appreciation Day, Dave liked the idea of kids getting a free airport T-shirt and gave big-heartedly toward that cause.

Dave loved kids. He was very good with them, and I will be eternally thankful of his kind care of Keely. He was there when we first got her. He visited her often. Took her on many airplane rides. He remembered her birthdays and Christmas.

Two of my favorite pictures of Keely involve Dave and rides in the Citabria. In the first, she is 7 and snaggle-toothed, wearing her favorite school T-shirt. In the next, she is 9, all teeth accounted for, but wearing that T-shirt again. The smiles on her face during those flights are a testament to Dave’s character and her fondness for him.

Dave liked his Stinson 108, but he dreamed of owning a Reliant. He talked of it on the porch often until one day he went to the computer in the briefing area and pulled up a picture of a prospect. It was “Big Fred.” I understand that Dave’s instructor Tom Shaw had just as much fun checking Dave out in that lumbering beast as Dave did.

If Dave had a Reliant, that meant we all had a Reliant. The Citabria was for personal flights. “Big Fred” was for when he wanted to carry his friends along. I can remember many times when Dave flew over and hopped rides for a porch full of folks. Myself included. He gave such joy.

“Big Fred” is not an airplane that goes unnoticed. Many times I’ve seen the airplane land at Winder for the ultimate airport lunch at the Spitfire Grill. Airport buddies would pile out of “Big Fred” by the dozens. Well, not really, but it seemed like it. Whether via “Big Fred” or other magical flying device, all of Jackson County arrived en masse.

Jackson County was a fond destination for Lester and me on Saturdays. You knew Dave and his gang would be at the airport early. They had favorite destinations, some grass, some paved, and a time or two they let me tag along. If Sunday was a good flying day, you could guarantee Dave and some of that gang was enjoying the buffet at The Runway Catfish House at Habersham-Cornelia (AJR) just a few miles to the north.

Dave and “Big Fred” became as common in the skies around northern Georgia as peanut butter and jelly in a kid’s sack lunch. Unfortunately, the recession hit the aviation community hard. Many of Dave’s friends turned to more economical experimentals and smaller airplanes to keep the cost of flying affordable. Dave finally had to do the same. I have no doubt it was a tough decision, but he had to let “Big Fred” go.

In recent months, we didn’t see as much of Dave as we would have liked. The economy kept most of our flights local, as it did his, but our electronic devices kept us in touch through email and Facebook. That is how I learned he bought a Fly Baby. There were many enthusiast posts about the new addition. The announcement that the Citabria was sold was posted quietly.

Dave seemed to enjoy his new ride. There were many wonderful pictures posted on his weekly email list. Most of the recreational pilots in northern Georgia were on his email list, and it was a pleasure to receive a photomontage of his most recent adventure.

There was no montage this past Sunday evening of the weekend’s flights. On Sunday morning at about 11:30 a.m., the Fly Baby’s A-65 stopped running about 150 feet in the air on takeoff. The nose dropped and in a blink of an eye Dave was gone.

A past president once spoke about a thousand points of light. On Sunday morning, one of those points went out and for a moment, the light of world dimmed, but in the next moment, the sun burst forth and Heaven welcomed her son home.

It was an honor to have known you, Dave.


Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. Deb can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.




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  1. Mark C. says

    Deb, it sounds like Dave deserved to have someone like you to write such an eloquent epitaph. I regret that I will never have the chance to meet him. The good news is that there are many like him among the community of pilots and I’m sure that the example he set has probably led others to think about how fortunate we all are to have the privilege of flight and that we should probably share it with others whenever and however we can.

  2. Randy Hopper says

    deb thank you for the outstanding piece you wrote about dave.  he is and will always be a large part  of the  hanger ten group at 19a. The ability of our group to welcome your Front Porch Gang into our fellowship was in large part through Dave.We appreciate you all very much.We will continue to keep you all inforned on an activities we plan  in the future.Dave was a large portion of the personality of the hanger ten group and is very much missed just i’m sure as your  Mr. Murphy.   Again thank you very much .     Randy Hopper

  3. Lo1207 says

    My name is April, I am Dave’s step daughter… I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for all the kind words. He was a great man and we miss him so much! Its sad to not have him here with us anymore but to hear how much he warmed so many hearts pleases me and I know he is flying the heavens above with the Lord, watching over us all! Again, thank you for keeping him in your thoughts!

  4. Eric says

    Sorry to hear of the passing of a true aviation ambassador, I have heard of Big Fred but never had the pleasure of a ride, I’m sure Dave is up there flying “Unlimited”.
    There’s a lesson here, make sure you get a little time with these guys, we won’t miss them until there gone. And all those wonderful stories will be lost.

  5. DC says

    I’m very sorry for your loss, perhaps I should say “our” loss. I have known a few people who just might be as special as Dave. The generosity of Dave, and people like him, in the aviation community amazes me.

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