Former Navy pilot worked for American Airlines

Published in the September 13, 2017 edition

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — William A. Wilkinson, 89, died peacefully with family on August 29, 2017.

Bill was born in Winchester on May 11, 1928 to Walter Edward and Leslie Payzant Wilkinson of Lynnfield. As a youth, Bill was both a member of the Boy Scouts of America and Civil Air Patrol. Captivated by flying from an early age, and in preparation for a Naval career, Bill graduated from Severen School in Severna Park Maryland in 1946, and joined the United States Navy through the Holloway Plan. This program allowed him to fly sooner and included two years of undergraduate education at Yale University, followed by two years of flight training in Pensacola, Florida, where he qualified as a fighter pilot and earned his Navy wings and commission.

Shortly after this, Bill married the love of his life, Mary F. Heywood, of Severna Park, Maryland in 1950. Six weeks later, Bill received orders to report to fighter squadron VF 32 aboard the USS Leyte in Norfolk, Virginia flying the F-4U Corsair. With VF 32, Bill flew multiple combat missions during the Korean War. His squadron mates became part of his extended family, and their wartime experiences created a brotherhood that lasted a lifetime. After concluding his service in the Navy, Bill joined American Airlines and flew domestic and international flights for 35 years. His career culminated as an American Airlines captain flying 747s to Paris and Tokyo.

Bill and Mary had three children and while the children were still young, they discovered sailing. This became a true passion for Bill and from their first nine-foot sailboat, a family legacy of time on the water began. Their cruising grounds included: Halifax, Nova Scotia; the Brador Lakes in Canada; the New England coast; the Caribbean and Bahamas, and along the Florida coast. After he retired, Bill spent many wonderful days sailing with good friends and family in Northeast Harbor, Maine and Punta Gorda, Florida. Sailing with Bill was always an adventure for the family. He enjoyed racing and never tired of designing ways to go faster. His family and friends know him as a humble yet accomplished captain and navigator.

He was a charter member of the Bernt Store Presbyterian Church and a member of the Isles Yacht Club. He also enjoyed volunteering for the Military Heritage Museum, Punta Gorda, Florida.

Bill was proceeded in death by his daughter Susan A. Dudman, and granddaughter Bethany L. Dudman. He is survived by his children and their spouses: Linda C. (David) DiSesa of Madeira Beach, Florida; and Robert H. (Nancy) Wilkinson of Mechanicsville, Virginia. He is also survived by his grandchildren: Kara E. Dudman (Dylan Reno), Burlington, Vermont; William A. Wilkinson, McLean, Virginia; and Emma I. Wilkinson, Mechanicsville, Virginia. He is also survived by his siblings: Richard W. Wilkinson and Beatrice, North Fort Myers; and Jacquelyn W. (Charles) Crawford (deceased).

A Celebration of Life was held for Bill at the Burnt Store Presbyterian Church, Punta Gorda, FL on Tuesday September 12. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Cancer Society, 992 Tamiami Trail Unit C2, Port Charlotte, FL 33953.