Capt. George Jefferson Price, a retired Pan American World Airways pilot, adventurer and raconteur, packed a lot of living into a life that ended at 96 earlier this month, when he died at a Coral Gables, Fla., nursing home.
Price's professional ties to Baltimore were through Pan Am, which he joined in 1942 aboard flying boats and later as a first officer aboard the famed M-130, better known to travelers as the China Clipper, that was built at the Glenn L. Martin Co. plant in Middle River.
I met Price, an extremely congenial and interesting man, more than a dozen years ago.
He and another retired Pan Am pilot were invited by state transportation officials to come to Baltimore for the unveiling of a large model of the M-130 suspended from the ceiling of the international terminal at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The historic plane launched Pan Am's trans-Pacific service in 1935.
Price's son, George Jefferson "Jeff" Price III, an old friend and newspaper colleague, invited me to join him, the two pilots, and J. Fife Symington Jr., for a dinner he was hosting the night before the dedication at the Maryland Club.
I was overwhelmed by the aviation history that was spread around the dinner table that evening, which turned out to be a long one once the tales began flowing - no doubt stimulated with a little help from the Manhattans and martinis that graced the table.
I had no idea that Pan Am founder, Juan Trippe, while born in Sea Bright, N.J., had Southern Maryland roots that dated to the late 1600s.
Pan Am was founded in 1927 and originally flew a route with a Fokker Trimotor from Palm Beach and Miami to Key West and Havana. Trippe's partners included Marylander John A. Hambleton, a World War I ace and a scion of an old banking family, and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney.
Hambleton, who flew the line's inaugural flight to Panama with Charles Lindbergh, was 31 when he was killed in an air crash in 1931.
Symington, who was Hambleton's nephew and drawn to aviation because of his uncle's exploits, joined Pan Am in 1934 and three years later was named traffic manager when the line established its terminal, Harbor Field, on Colgate Creek, where today's Dundalk Marine Terminal now sprawls. The old facility was demolished several years ago.
"Dad used to refer to them as 'those lazy rich boys sitting around the Chrysler Building,' where PAA had their executive offices," Price said, with a laugh.
Talk that evening naturally turned to the M-130, the plane that started it all, and a plane that the elder Price described as being "a most interesting plane to fly."
"It was the largest plane at the time that I'd ever been in," I recalled him telling me. "The cockpit was in an upper level with the passenger accommodation in the main fuselage. The plane was so large that the flight engineer could climb into the wing and make adjustments to the engine."
The China Clipper's official Martin Co. designation was M-130, and its chief designer was Guy Lee Bryan.
They were also known as Flying Clippers Nos. 7,8 and 9 or the China Clipper, Hawaii Clipper and Philippines Clipper. Boeing Aircraft built the next 13 clippers for the line.
For its day, the aircraft was a mammoth undertaking and at the time was the largest plane in the world. Several senior Martin engineers doubted the plane could be built, much less fly.
It was 90 feet, 7 inches long with a wingspan of a 130 feet. It weighed about 26 tons and was 25 feet high.
It was powered by a quartet of Pratt & Whitney 800-horsepower Wasp engines that reached an airspeed of 130 mph.
Its cruising range was 3,000 miles and its crew consisted of seven. The plane could transport 43 passengers in rather luxurious surroundings that were akin to traveling in that era by Pullman.
"There were several suites for sleeping, even a bridal suite. We had a full kitchen and everything," Price told The Sun when he returned to Baltimore in 2001, for a 10-year reunion of 1,500 former Pan Am employees.
Passengers could sip carefully stirred drinks aloft - especially the Clipper Cocktail, the plane's signature cocktail, that was delivered by stewards dressed in white jackets.
Dinner was no less an elegant experience, recalled Price. Passengers dined at tables covered in linen tablecloths, crisp napery, fine china, and silver goblets.
"It was an elegant craft capturing the aesthetic imagination and evoking the memory of the ships that gave the Clipper flying boats their names," wrote R. E. G. Davis, curator of air transport, Aeronautics Division of the National Air and Space Museum, in his book, "Pan Am: An Airline and its Aircraft."
In 1944, Pan Am sent Price, who also was a flight instructor and a spotter for German ships, to Puerto Rico, where he flew Sikorsky S-42 Clippers.
He was also aboard one of the two Pan Am Clippers that flew President Roosevelt from Miami to Morocco for the wartime meeting at Casablanca with British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill.
The president, who secretly boarded one of the two planes, was listed on the passenger manifest as "Mr. X."
When the war ended, Price was assigned to Belgium, where he flew DC-3s. In 1948, Price and several other pilots "borrowed" a Pan Am DC-3 in Brussels, loaded it with supplies and made their own unauthorized flight in the Berlin Airlift.
The Russians had blockaded Berlin, and the airlift was flying in food, coal and much needed provisions to keep the civilian population fed, clothed and warm.
"They had violated the flying pattern which was for military aircraft with planes arriving and taking off every few minutes," his son said. "They were running out of gas and they had to let them land at Tempelhof. They became the only civilian and unauthorized aircraft to fly in the airlift."
After having flown 6 million miles during his 31-year career, Price was flying Boeing 707 jets when he retired in 1973.