Dunno if anyone noticed, but Gordon Baxter died earlier this month.
Bax was an accomplished writer, authoring columns for both Car and Driver and Flying. I used to enjoy his monthly contributions and I have a book of collected columns somewhere here at home; I think I'll have to find it and reread it in his honor.
Here's a column from the online magazine AvWeb on ol' Bax:
As the Beacon Turns #91: A Great Storyteller Goes West
A long-time fixture in aviation and aviation writing passed away recently. Gordon ''Bax'' Baxter was, for many, the voice of old-time aviation, whether on the radio or in his prolific columns and books. AVweb's Michael Maya Charles was a fellow FLYING magazine staffer and an admirer.
By Michael Maya Charles
Gordon Francis Baxter -- "Bax" to his many friends and readers -- didn't discover penicillin or a cure for herpes, but his work as an aviation writer for nearly three decades is perhaps as important to those of us in aviation. You probably know Bax as the author of the long-running column, "Bax Seat" in FLYING magazine but there was more to the man than that.
Born Christmas Day, 1923 in Port Arthur, Texas, Bax lived his whole life in the Beaumont area. Some would say he didn't fall very far from the tree. But those would be the ones who don't understand how far Bax and his heart-rending stories would travel beyond the confines of his beloved state of Texas.
During the mid-40s Gordon Baxter became one of the first radio announcers to play his choice of records, making him one of the earliest "Disc Jockeys" in the country. He quickly earned a reputation for accurate news reporting, beginning with his radio-news coverage of the 1948 Texas City disaster. His home-spun, outspoken, sometimes controversial radio shows could be heard in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area for over 40 years. In addition to the usual farm report and news of the day, Bax also covered the race riots of the 60s, the war in Vietnam and all of the Apollo and Gemini space launches. He even reported from the eye of nine hurricanes as they wreaked havoc on his Gulf Coast home. "Bax" was honored for 25 years in radio from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.
Baxter was a prolific writer. He authored numerous columns and reported the news for nine newspapers in the Texas and Louisiana area. In 1969 he was voted Best Feature Writer by the Texas Press Association. Paul Crume said in the Dallas Morning News, "Sometimes a feeling comes up from Baxter prose that is like the bluest smoke from a rich pipe tobacco. At times, he is the best writer in Texas."
Bax penned a home-spun commentary on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" during the 80s. His passion for cars, beginning in his teen years, resulted in a column in "Car & Driver" Magazine. But most aviators know Bax as the romantic author of FLYING magazine's "Bax Seat," a column he began tentatively in May of 1970 and continued to write for almost 28 years.
A teller of tales, Bax was a man who saw us and our airplanes far more clearly than we could possibly see ourselves. He wrote with words that touched us deeply; painted pictures of things we all knew and loved, but hadn't the words to express. He talked about people in ways that made us recognize ourselves in his stories, and we often cried or laughed with his honored guests. Bax wrote about airplanes with soul: simple airplanes like pot-bellied Aeronca Champs; slender yellow Cubs and a much-loved Stearman belonging to M&M Air Service, near his home in Beaumont.
Bax's rich stories transported us easily to that simpler time when aviation was more about people, and less about things. He lived the twilight of barnstorming; and as a child, protected visiting barnstormers' aircraft from hungry cows during the night. You knew from Baxter's writing that he wished that era never ended; he brought that special time alive for us when he wrote about rides in visiting Curtis Condors, Waco's and Ford Tri Motors.
Bax's preferred method of writing, with pen and yellow legal tablet, probably drove his editors nuts, but his art is even more remarkable in these days and ease of computers. Three times he was awarded the Aviation/Space Writer's Association's citation for Outstanding Excellence in Aviation/Space Journalism.
Bax was a merchant marine and a waist gunner on B-17s during WWII. He soloed in 1957, owned a swift, pert little Mooney in the 70s, and finished his flying career with a commercial license, instrument, glider, multiengine and seaplane ratings. In 1978 mild brain seizures grounded him after 21 years of solo flying. He continued to fly with others for years afterwards, but he admitted that he missed the simple solitude of flying alone.
Meeting The Man
I first met Gordon at the Reading Air Show in the mid-70s when we were both covering the daily news for FLYING magazine. I remember thinking at the time that this man -- in person -- was very much the writer whom I had grown to love through his writings. While I was a contributing editor at FLYING, the most common reader question asked of me was, "Why don't you guys write more about little airplanes?" But the second question was always: "Do you know Gordon Baxter?" Bax was everybody's favorite aviation writer.
Bax is gone now. He died of natural causes on June 11 at 2:15 p.m., with his wife Diane at his side. He hadn't been doing well in recent years, suffering from the inequitable decline of senile dementia, respiratory problems and the cumulative rigors of earlier strokes and epilepsy. Regardless of his current struggle, his standard answer when son Jim would walk into his room, asking how he was doing, was, "Send me in, coach."
He was the father of nine children: three sons and five daughters from first wife, Mary Olive Dailey; and one daughter from his second marriage to Diane Tittle.
Texas Aviation Hall Of Fame
For several years, a group of us have been trying to get Bax inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame, an honor that should have been rightly bestowed upon him years ago. Just last month, we received word that this was Bax's big year: He would finally be inducted into the Hall at their 7th Annual Induction Ceremony and Gala on November 12, 2005 at 6:00 p.m. When Bax learned the news, he said to his son Jim, "Find my tux ..."
It is often said that a man should be judged by how many hearts he's lived in. Well, Gordon Baxter lived in -- and continues to live in -- many of our hearts. Thousands of lives were touched or undeniably altered by his stories, and we will always treasure them. When I am in a group of pilots, it's amazing how often I'm still asked about Bax. This continued interest in him by his many fans -- even though his last column was published many years ago -- is a fitting tribute to the man that so many knew and loved.
Bax, may there be only Stearmans, Cubs and one particular Mooney where you are now. We will surely miss you.
This month's column was written with the family's blessing, and the help and support of Jim Baxter, Gordon's son. If you wish to attend the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Gala on November 12, go to the organization's Web site.
Memorial contributions can be made to:
Baxter Scholarship Fund at Lamar University
C/O Texas State Bank
4285 East Lucas
Beaumont, Texas 77703
Books by Gordon Baxter:
"13/13 Vietnam: Search and Destroy" Copyright 1967 – Published by The World Publishing Company
"Bax Seat: Log of a Pasture Pilot" Copyright 1978 – Published by Ziff Davis Flying Books
"More Bax Seat: New Logs of a Pasture Pilot" Copyright 1988 – Published by TAB Books
"Village Creek" Copyright 1979 – Published by Summit Books, A Simon and Schuster Division of Gulf & Western Corporation
"How to Fly" Copyright 1981 – Published by Summit Books, a Division of Simon & Shuster, Inc.
"Jenny and Dad" Copyright 1985 – Published by Summit Books, A Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc
"Fire, Family and Friends" Copyright 1991 – Published by Cabco/Precept, Inc
"Best of Bax" – Six volumes of his favorite newspaper columns