David Charles Montgomery, of Maple Grove, Minnesota, passed away Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at the age of 86. He passed while in the gentle care of North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale. His wife of 66 years, Agnes; sons David Jr., Robert, and Joseph; daughters-in-law Mary (Burns) and Kitty (Pearthree); and grandchildren John and Eloise were at his side.
David was born in 1931. After spending his early years at home and his uncle Gus’s farm in Wisconsin, he moved with the family to Chicago and eventually to Battle Creek, Michigan, where he graduated from high school in 1949. In Michigan he met his future wife, Agnes.
Pursuing an interest in aviation held since childhood, David joined the United States Air Force in 1950. He asked Agnes to join him and see the world. She accepted, and he was off to training as an aircraft electrician. A few years later he became an officer and learned to fly. He spoke often of Joe O’Quinn, his old flight instructor. O’Quinn recognized his talent for flying and ushered him through a successful completion of flight training. I think they enjoyed each other as much as the flying. His first child, daugher Mary, was born during this time.
David learned to fly jets, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in 1955 and sent to England to fly the F-86D from RAF Manston near Margate. He had many tales of adventure in the F-86D, which he relished telling. While the day-fighter F-86 Sabre Jet was fast and nimble, the F-86D gained the moniker “Sabre Dog.” It was designed as an all-weather and night interceptor, fitted with radar in the nose and a targeting solution computer. Still in the era of vacuum-tube electronics, these additions were substantial and took their toll on the plane’s performance. But the intellectual challenge of intercepting another plane by assembling radar bloops and instructions from ground controllers into a sort of three-dimensional chess game is one that David excelled at. The story of one such intercept, carried out as a training mission against an incoming British Valiant bomber, was published in Sabre Jet Classics (Vol. 7 No. 3, Fall 1999). David Jr. was born while stationed in England.
His skill did not go unnoticed and he was offered further advancement in the Air Force, but declined as he had other plans. David, Agnes and family returned to the States in 1957 for him to pursue college and a career as a pilot.
While completing his studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, he joined the Michigan Air National Guard and flew the F-89 Scorpion. Upon graduation the family moved again to Massapequa, Long Island, New York while David pursued opportunities with Eastern Air Lines and Capitol Air. Ultimately the airlines proved to be as volatile as ever, and the family returned again to Michigan while David continued looking elsewhere. Robert and Steven, both born in Michigan, came during these years.
He found work in the fall of 1960 with Watkins in Winona, Minnesota, and the family joined him there soon afterward. There he met Jack Ollom, another mentor of whom he spoke often and fondly. He flew Watkins’ C-47 (a variant of the Douglas DC-3 “Gooneybird”) and Cessna 310B until his flying career was brought to an abrupt end under dubious circumstances. He was reassigned to the collections department, which he found unrewarding, and soon began looking elsewhere.
Honeywell in Minneapolis hired David in 1966, and after moving the family again to a new house saw the arrival of Joseph (surprise!). He moved through the EDP (electronic data processing, now called “IT”) department as a programmer, systems analyst and project manager. Although it wasn’t flying, working with computer technology and coworkers that he admired was rewarding enough to keep him until his retirement in 1994.
Meanwhile, he had served with the Minnesota Air National Guard since his days in Winona, furthering his education with a year spent at Air War College in Huntsville, Alabama and rising to the rank of Colonel. He retired from the Guard as Director of Logistics on December 31, 1979, after 29 years in the military.
In the early 1990s his older brother Wardwell, who shared his passion for flight and had also moved to the Minneapolis area in the 1960s, bought a small airplane and encouraged David to join him. He regained his flight status and they spent the next 20-plus years flying together. They flew to distant family events, explored the countryside (including trips to Alaska and the North Pole!), and volunteered with Lifeline, which organizes transportation for people in rural areas who need access to medical services. They would fly as far away as Montana or Illinois to pick up a patient, often bringing them to the Mayo Clinic and home again. Besides flying, David would also develop their flight plans for these long trips and communicate them to air traffic controllers, and he lent his mechanical skills to helping maintain and improve the aircraft.
On one remarkable occasion, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, Ward and David were granted special permission to fly as part of a Lifeline cross-country relay, while the entire national air traffic control system was shut down. During this time, there were almost no other civilian aircraft in the sky over the entire United States.
David had other interests as well. Music ran in the family; his father was an accomplished violinist. He played the flute and piccolo, and had a particular fondness for marching bands, as well as the great classics. He got all excited by the thump and bombast of a rousing march. As a child he had worn his recording of Beethoven’s “Eroica,” on a stack of 78s, down to the wax. Music was a shared passion with Agnes, and together they passed it on to the children, all of whom learned to play and listen deeply.
His motor scooter often figured in his tales of youthful (mis)adventure. During his year in Alabama he bought a motorcycle, which came back with him to Minnesota. That fired up the boys, all of whom learned to ride. Joe was about 8 years old at this time, and they spent many afternoons and evenings together exploring the back roads of Minnesota.
In the late ‘70s a Honeywell coworker bought an Apple II microcomputer and talked about it. This led David to buying a different machine, a TRS-80, so they could compare notes. What he learned about the emerging microcomputer technology opened an avenue that carried him through the last 15 years of his work at Honeywell. This interest was passed on as well, at first directly to Joe, and later on to Steve and Rob.
In his later years, David was increasingly dogged by advancing heart failure. He’d had a mechanical heart valve implanted, then a pacemaker, then a pacemaker and defibrillator. In 2013, now 82 years old, the strain of long flights and working on the plane proved more demanding than he could sustain, and he informed Ward that he was done. Upon losing his flying partner, Ward quickly found that the joy they had shared was no longer there, and he sold the plane.
His health became unstable in the last few months. Although in and out of the hospital repeatedly, he knew and accepted what was coming and remained cheerful and at peace. (And truthfully, I think he enjoyed all the attention from the nurses.) As always, his principal concern was not himself but for the well-being of his wife and family.
David passed with family holding his hands, knowing that his children and grandchildren were established with their own work and families, that Agnes would be comfortable and cared for, and that there was nothing more to do: a good life, and a good death. Thanks dad, for showing us how it’s done.