Patrick A. Gavin, 85, NASA administrator, yachtsman

September 04, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Patrick Anthony Gavin, deputy personnel director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and an avid yachtsman, died Tuesday of pneumonia at Anne Arundel Medical Center. The longtime Annapolis resident was 85.

Mr. Gavin began his career in 1941 in Washington with the old National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which became NASA. As deputy personnel director of the agency, he was responsible for labor relations and administering the Equal Opportunity Program.

"He was a very, very caring person who didn't accept what other people told him. He wanted to find out for himself, which is an invaluable asset when you're in the personnel business," said Paul Dembling, former NASA general counsel.

Mr. Dembling said Mr. Gavin "wanted to make sure that the agency was open to diversity and that it worked, and he led the way by hiring minorities on his own staff."

Mr. Gavin's wife of 44 years, the former Arlene Patterson, said, "He was determined that women and blacks got a fair shake, and he was an advocate for them."

At the inception of NASA in 1958, Mr. Gavin was a member of the selection committee that designed the agency's shield. One of the highlights of his career was having a hand in the selection of the original seven astronauts who were assigned to the Mercury space program.

"He set up the interviews that led to their recruitment and handled the personnel work," said Mr. Dembling.

In 1961, Mr. Gavin traveled to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to watch the launch of Freedom 7 and Commander Alan B. Shepard Jr. on the nation's first manned sub-orbital space flight.

A tall, thin man with a ruddy complexion and beard, Mr. Gavin favored casual dress. Family members said he never wore a tie after his 1972 retirement.

An accomplished yachtsman, Mr. Gavin served during World War II with the Army Medical Corps in New Caledonia, a French territory in the southwest Pacific. There, he captained a 45-boat sailboat used for the entertainment of convalescing servicemen.

"A frequent sailing companion was Adm. William `Bull' Halsey, who passed the word that no one else could sail the boat except Pat," said Mrs. Gavin.

Mr. Gavin continued to sail the Chesapeake Bay aboard his 36-foot boat, the Cherrybomb. He also sailed to the Bahamas.

A great spinner of sea tales, Mr. Gavin liked to entertain his family and guests with stories from his vast repertoire while sipping Mount Gay Rum and tonic.

Born and reared in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Gavin graduated from Regis High School in his hometown. He earned his bachelor's degree from American University in Washington. When he wasn't sailing, he enjoyed playing golf and tennis.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. Anne Episcopal Church, on Church Circle in Annapolis.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Patricia Glasgow of Columbia, Christine Shea and Kathleen Poerstel, both of Annapolis; and eight grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the Dorothy Polakoff Scholarship Fund, Department of Social Work, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20002.

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