Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Age can't ground this couple

Don't expect to find Gilbert "Gil" Fortune, 85, or his wife Mary Fortune, 75, content playing bingo or catching the early bird special.

Instead, they can be found soaring 4,000 feet over Tampa Bay during their free time. Gil, a licensed pilot, typically flies Mary to Fort Lauderdale to visit family or to Savannah, Ga., for recreation. When they're not in the air, they're cruising around Tampa Bay in their sailboat or vacationing around the Southeast.

Gil founded the TradeWinds and Sandpiper resorts on St. Pete Beach with his former wife of 57 years, Isabel Fortune, who died in 2000 from heart disease. Mary's former spouse died in 1995. Since Mary and Gil were introduced through mutual friends and married in 2005, it has been nothing but new adventures.

"I love to fly with Gil. It's always an exciting voyage with him wherever we go," she said. "But after a while I didn't want to just watch. I wanted to learn for myself." And that's exactly what she did. She's training at Albert Whitted Airport to earn a pilot's license of her own.

"For me, it's just the challenge of the whole thing," she said. "At my age, it's great to be able to be challenged. All these new adventures keep me energized and keep my mind sharp."

Mary has already passed the written exam required to earn a private pilot's license, scoring 98 out of 100. She also has logged about 25 hours of practice flight toward the minimum 40 hours also required.

On Thursday, she practiced "touch-and-go" landings, a complicated maneuver where the pilot takes off and climbs, turns to enter the airport's traffic pattern, circles back to the front of the runway, briefly touches the landing strip and immediately takes off again. Her flight instructor, Misa Franklin, said Mary could earn her license sometime early next year.

Having her own license will help Mary split flying time with her husband and also allow her to visit her five adult children more often.

Before flying real aircraft, she practiced for about six months using Microsoft Flight Simulator, a PC-based aviation software program.

Gil, on the other hand, first started piloting World War II-era Ryan S-Cs, a training aircraft for the U.S. Army Air Forces, during the early 1940s. While he was not able to become a fighter pilot due to his relatively poor eyesight, he has never given up his passion for flight as he's grown older and started various businesses. Former wife Isabel was also drawn to aviation through his encouragement. In 1986, Gil and Isabel were part of the Voyager mission control team. Voyager was the first plane to fly around the world without refueling. Now he says he can't wait for Mary to become a pilot as well.

Gil's in the air several times a month, and Mary said his age hasn't slowed him down at all. He's now learning how to operate "glass-cockpit" style aircraft — newer planes with entirely digital control panels unlike the dial-based aircraft he learned to fly during the 1940s.

"We never stop trying to do new things, and that's why we're much younger than we are in chronological age," Gil asserted. "The age number is really irrelevant, it's how young you are at heart that counts. We've had very fulfilling lives so far and that's what's important."

As his wife practiced in a Cessna Skyhawk training aircraft, Gil rode around the tarmac in a golf cart observing her take off and land.

Toward the middle of the practice flight, Mary's daughter, Ann Reitman, 38, and her infant granddaughter, Charlotte, arrived at the airport and joined Gil to watch.

"She and Gil continue to go on these amazing adventures," said Reitman, who was witnessing her mother flying a plane for the first time. "I can't believe she's going to be a pilot now … they live such an exciting life."

Age can't ground this couple 11/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 5:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst

    Business

    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico

    World

    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75

    Accidents

    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.