Remembering Pat Luebke, Long-time Air Facts Managing Editor

Aviation lost a truly special person last week, but it’s not a name most pilots outside the publishing industry will know. Patricia Luebke, managing editor at Air Facts and one of the driving forces behind relaunching this magazine in 2011, passed away on Friday, November 22, 2019 after a brief illness. She was 69. Here we share remembrances from four colleagues.

John Zimmerman

Editor-in-chief at Air Facts, Vice President at Sporty’s Pilot Shop

Pat never had a byline at Air Facts and yet her fingerprints are all over this website. She edited every article we’ve ever published, advised countless writers on how to tell the right story, and offered a constant stream of article ideas. Take my word for it: an Air Facts editorial meeting with Pat Luebke and Richard Collins was a tour de force. I should have recorded a few of those sessions.

I got to know Pat after her years at Flying magazine, and by then it seemed she knew everyone in aviation. All you had to do was mention a person’s or a company’s name and she’d instantly offer an anecdote (usually hilarious). This was immensely useful, since Pat’s most valuable role was to be the voice of reason. In reviewing some recent emails from her, I found a typical response to a sub-par article submission: “Oh we can’t run that story – Bob’s been peddling that crap for decades and nobody is buying.” 

Pat Luebke
Pat Luebke knew just about everybody in aviation.

Pat will be remembered by many for that acerbic wit, and deservedly so. A life-long New Yorker (and proud of it), she suffered no fools and did not hide her opinions. I loved that about Pat. In a world drowning in spin and jargon, she always spoke her mind, and usually in the simplest possible terms.

But that simplicity masked a love of grammar and writing. She and I had countless conversations about the right adjective, whether the passive voice was ever acceptable, and why the serial comma was the right answer. We agreed more than we disagreed, but we always had an energetic debate.

Despite that reputation for brutal honesty, Pat had a huge heart. As over 1,000 Air Facts writers know, she was a tireless advocate for regular pilots. Everyone had a story to tell, she believed, and it was our job to get as many of them published as possible. She did this by taking a personal interest in “her writers,” offering encouragement, advice, and the occasional kick. Many would become regular pen pals.

I can still hear her sharing some of her rules with new writers. “Every story has a beginning, middle, and end,” she would say, “so make sure your article has each one too.” Even better was her simple but profound advice to keep it conversational: “Just tell me your story, and don’t try to sound like a capital W writer.” If a writer got carried away with flowery language, she would set them straight: “Sometimes the sky is just blue, not an azure paint stroke across the firmament.”

So as I finish the first article I’ve ever written for Air Facts without first talking to Pat, I find myself checking my grammar and wondering what she might say (“wrap it up already,” I suspect). It’s not the same without her, but I know her spirit lives on in the thousands of writers she helped, the countless women she inspired, and the huge network of friends she connected.

Rest assured, Air Facts will continue. We currently have our longest article backlog ever and last month we had more readers than any month since we went live in 2011. We will keep sharing pilots’ flying stories – that’s exactly what Pat would want.

Lane Wallace

Former Flying magazine columnist, author of Unforgettable: My 10 Best Flights (edited by Pat)

Pat Luebke was aviation royalty. She was one of the “first wave” of women pursuing careers in aviation publishing when she joined Flying magazine’s advertising department in the 1970s. She called on everyone in the business and, over time, earned both the respect and the affection of an entire industry. Respect, because she had such integrity and professionalism, and was so phenomenally talented, creative, and reliable. And affection, because she cared so much about others and had such a gift for helping people and making them laugh, that people wanted to be around her. 

Pat Luebke at Oshkosh
Pat would hold court at Oshkosh every year.

Pat had a gift for seeing possibility in ideas and people, and in what could happen if the right people and ideas were put together. And she was tireless in making that happen. Pat would hold court at the EAA’s AirVenture show in Oshkosh – outside the Flying building, or at the edge of the media tent, once that was built – and people from all corners of the industry would come to talk with her. Run ideas past her. Ask for her ideas. Enjoy her witty and wise quips about the foibles and problems of humans. Gossip. Laugh. And without moving an inch, she moved mountains. 

In the 1990s, for example, Pat was friends with me, and with Mac McClellan, but Mac and I didn’t know each other. But when Gordon Baxter was getting ready to retire, and I’d bought my Grumman Cheetah, Pat saw the potential, and she put the two of us together. My column and career at Flying never would have happened without her. And there are countless people in aviation who have a similar story.  

Pat was behind so many creative initiatives in aviation, from small things like luring journalists to press conferences by offering a rich breakfast spread, to big things like the Sporty’s Foundation, a nationwide effort to honor WASP gravesites on Memorial Day, and Girls in Aviation Day.

But in many ways, what all of us will remember most is her wit, and her heart. She didn’t say you were an idiot for not seeing something you should have. She’d say, “Ding! Ding! It’s the clue bus – your stop! Get on!” Or, if you complained about a difficult person being difficult again, she’d gently remind you, “The players can only play their parts.” Whether she was giving professional or personal advice, Pat was usually right, and the way she expressed it made her wisdom impossible to forget. I’m especially grateful for that now. 

Pat was a pioneer. She was royalty. And she was irreplaceable. 

Russell Munson

Photographer at Flying magazine, Air Facts contributor

I was about to say that the only good part of Pat’s passing is that it happened pretty quickly, within a matter of hours after entering the hospital. Not days, weeks, months or years of suffering. But that’s not the only good part. The best part is that she was my dear friend for 45 years, beginning in our Flying magazine days. We came to love each other. And she was loved and deeply respected by legions of others as well.  

Why? Pat had a rare combination of many attributes. She was really smart, uncompromisingly honest, very talented, hard working, kind, loving, insightful, generous, wise, intolerant of bullshit, topped off with a penetrating sense of humor that was always cocked and ready to fire the instant a target was sighted. Don’t be shocked. It was also occasionally off color. Maybe she had been in the Navy. I don’t know.

When I heard the news of her death last week I was about to call her to schedule our annual holiday staff party that has been our tradition for many years. It involved summoning our respective staff members from around the world to convene for lunch in Manhattan. The fact that Pat and I were both sole proprietors with no staff at all didn’t matter.  We would meet at the arranged location each year, and one of us would say, “Where’s your staff?” 

“Oh, the weather was bad in Singapore, and their flight was cancelled. The others seem to be late. What about yours?”

“Maybe they got the date wrong. Let’s go ahead and start.” 

And so for the next three hours or so it was just Pat and me talking about one thing after another, triggered by what the other had just said. And laughing. The time passed so quickly.

Mac McClellan

Former Editor-in-Chief at Flying magazine, Air Facts contributor

Over more than 40 years of working with Pat, and being close friends, I learned very early that she demanded the best of herself in any project she took on. And required the same from those who worked with her.

It was at the old Reading Air Show, the biggest general aviation show through the 1970s, that we on the Flying magazine staff learned just how determined Pat was to get everything right. Pat was in charge of the hospitality service for Flying friends and customers at the show.

Reading is not exactly a metropolis with extensive catering services but Pat believed she had found the best available. The guy ran a hugely successful bowling ally and his customers loved the food.

But when Kenny – I still remember his name – showed up with deviled eggs dyed red instead of the natural eggs Pat had ordered she threatened to throw the terrified Kenny off the fire escape of the building.

Kenny believed her. And we did, too. Pat worked harder than any of us to make everything just right. And God help those who didn’t also do their best to deliver what they promised her.

Over her decades of work in aviation we all knew Pat was the most dependable. And in every aspect of flying dependability is what counts most. I’m going to miss her terribly.

 

A Celebration of Life service for Pat will be held on Sunday, December 15, from 6-7:30 pm at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, NY. Women in Aviation has also established a scholarship fund in Pat’s honor.

16 Comments

  • I remember when I submitted my first contribution and Pat reached out to encourage me and help me “clean” it up and how supportive she was. When I reached out about contributing to the state series, particularly, New York, was enthusiastic and helpful and gave me some great additional thoughts.

    I didn’t know her other than AFJ, but the short interactions I shared with her and our conversations about our home state of New York left a great impression on me. I told her on the phone I wish she could edit all my work. I’m fortunate enough to be able to attend her remembrance and looking forward to meeting her friends and admirers.

    God speed and rest in peace Pat

  • I’ve only had a few conversations with Pat over the previous year, but each one was memorable. She was straightforward and usually hilarious, but always warm and very encouraging. I only wish I could’ve known her longer.

  • This is very sad news. I’m really, really sorry to hear it. Pat and I had many text conversations concerning the stories I have submitted to Air Facts over the past few years, and as a result, I came to regard her as a friend – a friend I have lost. My condolences to all her family and many friends.

  • I had corresponded with Pat this August regarding a piece I wrote for AirFacts. I was shocked to hear of her passing so recently and so suddenly. Rest in peace Pat, and thank you for all you’ve done. Deepest condolences to your family and friends.

  • Thank you for bringing Pats passion to to front page this weekend. I’ve enjoyed our conversations during Aspens annual media breakfast during AirVenture. Durning the last few years I’d just call Pat and we would chat about NY and current events in aviation. I’ll miss those calls. Pat was so excited when she paid off her mortgage a few years back. We joked about going to the roof top and having a “mortgage burning party”. Of course wisdom overwhelming changed our minds.
    She will be missed.
    Type onward into the West.

    Kent Dellenbusch
    VP,
    Cessna Flyer Association
    Piper Flyer Association

  • This is what I posted on FB when I first heard this terrible news. I can’t say it any better, so here:

    I personally owe Pat this inestimable debt of gratitude (which I have shared with her many times over the years, and which she would always dismiss with a disdainful wave of her hand):
    I was working in the admissions office at Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire in the early 1980s when I conspired to run an ad in Flying, hoping to get to meet Dick Collins, Nigel Moll, Peter Garrison and so many more of my heroes. When I came down to Manhattan for a visit, Pat grilled me on my background, and responded [in that gravelly Julie Kavner voice I will NEVER forget]:
    “You have a degree in English lit? And you’re a pilot? Shit! You should be one of our editors!”
    After a couple of letter exchanges with Dick Collins (and a lot of angst), there I was with a cubicle at One Park Ave, “the address that sounds a lot better than it is.”
    And before I knew it, this Boston Bruins fan was sitting next to Pat at a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden (she had season tickets) – just one of so many bizarre, happy memories I have associated with this absolutely one-of-a-kind human being.
    I have no doubt Pat is now in a very special place, somewhere. But certainly, she will always hold a lofty station in my memory.
    Smooth skies, Pat.

  • I volunteered to write an article in the AFJ States series just a couple of months before Pat passed away. When I submitted my article via email (vs. Word), I decided I should provide her with several choices of postcards for Wisconsin to make up for it. She complimented me on doing that and a conversation over my hobby of collecting old ‘real photograph postcards’ (RPPC) ensued. She told me that she liked to gift cards to people so a series of sidebar emails followed. I even sent her a source for them; she thanked me for that help.

    When I noticed that she had passed on, I was flabbergasted. I had just talked to this woman … how could this happen? So … yeah … she had an infectious way about her and I got to feel a tinge of it in the very short time I conversed electronically with her.

    RIP, Pat … thanks for all you did for aviation.

  • John, Lane, Russell, and Mac, you all got it right. I’ve only known Pat since the mid-1990s or so and worked closely with her when AOPA acquired Flight Training magazine and Flight School Business in late 1998 and then on many projects since. As you’ve already pointed out–great sense of acerbic humor and a wonderful gossip. Whenever I wanted to know what was going on in aviation, Pat would be the first call. I will miss her calls and funny Tweets. Rest in peace, my friend.

  • I appreciate all the help Pat gave me when I sent articles. She knew what she wanted and was essentially, my first ‘managing editor’. She shot straight from the hip and did not suffer fools, could be gentle as a lamb or a royal pain in the neck, but always sought excellence. RIP Pat, you will be sorely missed.

  • My first reaction to news of Pat’s unexpected death was– as I suppose was true for hundreds of her aviation friends– “Oh, no! We had lots more to talk about.” I never met Pat or even spoke to her on the phone, but a series of email conversations began after my 1st submission to AFJ years ago. The topics veered far from aviation, to politics, writing, grammar, and more. She had a distinctive voice, and I am grateful to have heard it for a time. I am particularly grateful for her role in making AFJ the welcoming place it is for our stories.

  • This is sad news. I’m a sparse contributor, but I do remember talking to Pat once. She made it easy to contribute. No idea she was such a powerhouse, but no surprise; such people abound in our tight little aviation circle. We mourn the loss here in our Colorado backwater and very much appreciate the texts above remembering Pat and her loving and important contribution to aviation. Blue skies Pat.

  • I got to know Pat in the early 80’s when I had a business that advertised in Flying magazine.
    Pat was always gracious, helpful, and courteous. She was an immense help to my business and always enjoyed talking about flying and aviation writing.
    The world has lost a wonderful person and she will be missed by all who knew her.

  • Wow. After reading these stories it makes me wish I’d crossed paths with Pat at some point in my 25 years of General Aviation.

    This also reminds me that sometimes I wish we’d hear some of these wonderful stories about fascinating characters like Pat while they are still alive. That said, from her descriptions though I suspect she’d never let those stories get to print. 🙂

  • It is amazing to me that so many of the comments above resonate perfectly with my perception of Pat, whom I also never met or spoke with. The acerbic wit, not suffering fools and always aiming for excellance…but most importantly, her conversational style in written correspondence. Like everyone else, I really will miss those exchanges. The first couple of times I wrote to her, I’d do so in a formal style, expecting a formal reply. Instead, I got a reply that sounded as if she was my neighbor across the backyard fence. As Jim D said, she made it easy to contribute, and thus leaves a remarkable legacy in words.

  • My relationship with Pat was brief but the news of her passing was like I’d lost a life friend. Her candor and advice were treasures. A critical reader I could have used many times before my Air Facts hook-up. I will have her savvy and expertise hard wired in my editorial background evermore. Thanks Pat. Here’s my nickel on the grass.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *