19:16 PM

Guertin's CAP Contributions Continue

Loretta Fulton
Contributing Writer

Carolyn A. Guertin made an impact on the brand-new Civil Air Patrol the day she joined, then served the organization and led by example until her death in last year. She’s still making a lasting impact by leaving substantial gifts that will benefit future generations.

Guertin died Aug. 8, 2020, just over a month after turning 92 on June 29. She left two gifts to Civil Air Patrol, totaling $100,000.

Her first gift, for $95,000, will establish an endowed scholarship with the CAP Foundation to fund scholarships for members or their families.

Her second gift, for $5,000, is designated for the West Richmond Cadet Squadron, which she formed in 1952 as Richmond Cadet Squadron Two and which has since been renamed the Carolyn A. Guertin Cadet Squadron in her honor. Those funds will be used to buy plaques and trophies for squadron members.

No one is surprised at Guertin’s generosity in leaving money to many charitable organizations and in providing long-term support for Civil Air Patrol. Kristina Jones, CAP’s chief of philanthropy, said that because of Guertin’s scholarship endowment, her story will continue to be told.

“Col. Guertin cared so much for Civil Air Patrol, she made sure a scholarship fund would be available to members and their families for the future,” Jones said. “We look forward to the stories which she will inspire through her generosity.”

Guertin’s own story is the stuff of books and movies. The minimum age for joining Civil Air Patrol when it was formed in December 1941 was 16. According to her nephew and executor of her estate, Rhett Weiss, Guertin was only 13 and lied about her age to get in.

Even though she was first in line to join the Virginia Wing, she recalled, she was told to sit down and wait until 10 men could join first. After they had done so, she got right back up and asked for her turn. That feisty nature stayed with her throughout her life.

“She was bright, articulate, strong-willed and fearless,” Weiss said. “Ultimately, she had no fear of dying, even when dying. She was determined and brave until her physical end here on earth.”

Friends in high places

“The first scholarship from the Col. Carolyn Weiss Guertin Fund will be awarded in fiscal 2023,” said Col. Raj Kothari, chair of the CAP Foundation. In fact, announcement of the first recipient may be made on what would have been Guertin’s 95th birthday – June 29, 2023.

Kothari is aware of Guertin’s legacy and had met her over the years at national conferences and events. “She was going to serve,” he said, “and she was going to make a difference and make an impact.”

“Guertin accomplished all those goals and set an example. Now she is making it possible for others to do the same. Anyone hoping to follow in Guertin’s footsteps had better be fearless, spunky and confident — traits attributed to her,” said Col. Elizabeth A. Sydow, commander of the Virginia Wing and CAP’s former national diversity officer.

While serving as diversity officer, Sydow often cited Guertin’s later life, when she used a walker or wheelchair to attend ground operations training. Even though she was limited physically, she still found a way to serve as a radio operator, inspiring others with physical limitations.

“She was a great example all the way through her life,” Sydow said.

“Guertin’s dedication to Civil Air Patrol was evident wherever she went,” said Lt. Col. John Payne, who joined CAP in 1995, frequently took Guertin to events over the past 15 years, and was the Richmond squadron’s commander when it was renamed for her.

Well-worn and much-read

Guertin had an original copy of “Flying Minute Men: The Story of the Civil Air Patrol,” Robert E. Neprud’s 1948 account of the organization’s first few years, that was filled with autographs of such luminaries as legendary World War II aviator Jimmy Doolittle, President George H.W. Bush and aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky.

“She had her book almost everywhere she went,” Payne said.

The book, which the Smithsonian Institution requested for its collection, will remain at Virginia Wing Headquarters in Richmond, thanks to a donation on the family’s behalf by Weiss, her nephew and estate executor. He donated it to CAP, along with boxes full of Guertin’s other CAP and aviation mementos, awards, photos, correspondence and documents.

They represent a big piece of CAP’s history, Weiss said. The headquarters also is home of the Col. Carolyn A. Guertin Operations Center, a designation made official on her birthday this year.

Payne misses his conversations with Guertin on their many trips, but he’s happy her legacy will live on. In 2020, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam read a proclamation designating June 29, Guertin’s birthday, as Carolyn A. Guertin Day in Virginia. Also, a new cadet leadership award will be named for Guertin, and a YouTube tribute video honors her.

“It’s been all over the country,” Payne said of the video. “She was definitely known in the CAP world.”

Among Guertin’s greatest admirers is her nephew and executor, Weiss. The two were close while Weiss was growing up in Norfolk and McLean, Virginia, both within easy driving distance of Guertin’s Richmond home. They enjoyed mealtime discussions during family visits and longer conversations during summertime extended stays.

Guertin and her husband, Donald, a World War II B17 pilot, had no children of their own, but she was always interested in her only nephew’s activities. By the time Weiss was in his mid-teens, he understood how unique his aunt was and how much of an impact she had made.

“Aunt Carolyn loved to live, serve, mentor and explore,” Weiss said, and she continued doing so throughout her life.

As executor of his aunt’s estate, Weiss wants to go beyond what that role traditionally involves. He intends to administer the will and also preserve Guertin’s legacies of leading by example, guiding and mentoring others, being a lifelong learner, pursuing goals and dreams tenaciously and being committed to personal values while being open-minded and respectful of other people’s values.

“Longer-term, I will do my best to go the extra mile, as Aunt Carolyn always did in her pursuits,” Weiss said, “sharing these legacies with others and living them myself.”

Leave a Legacy to CAP
You too can create a lasting legacy. To set up a scholarship or endowment fund or for more information, contact Kristina E. Jones at legacy@gocivilairpatrol.org or call 1-833-426-4227 (toll-free).