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Clair “Toby” Dunlap lived his dream and then some.
When he was 5, he took a $5 airplane ride out of Birch Bay, Whatcom County, and the young boy was hooked for life.
Dunlap bought his first plane at 16, was a pilot for 36 years for United Airlines and retired as a captain. He met a campaigning John F. Kennedy while copiloting the plane he was on and was still teaching people how to fly at 88. He did all that while helping raise four kids.
Dunlap died March 31 from complications of the coronavirus, having been diagnosed with the virus three days after daughter Kathy Aho, an ICU nurse at the University of Washington Medical Center, was diagnosed with it. Dunlap was 89.
“He was handsome, he was humble, he was bright and he was the best neighbor you could have,” said Aho, who has recovered from the virus. “And we always felt very blessed that he was the best possible father because he was so good and made his kids such a high priority.”
When Dunlap was 10, he lived in Yakutat, Alaska, where his father was a commissioner. The young Dunlap befriended the guards at the Air Force base, who taught him how to drive a Jeep. One day, he was playing dodgeball with the guards in the yard that served as part of base’s temporary jail.
Aho said one of the prisoners grabbed a guard’s gun and when he went to shoot the guard he missed, hitting the 10-year-old.
“It went through his chest, through his ribs,” Aho said. “It didn’t hit anything major but he had to be airlifted back to Yakutat [and then to Juneau].”
He survived to live a long, full life. At 16, he bought his first plane, a Piper Super Cruiser, and was a hit with his high school classmates when he would take the plane and tow them over frozen Mendenhall Lake in Juneau, Alaska.
In his early 20s, he had 50 flights to the top of Lemon Creek Glacier, where he collected core samples for scientists, including from the University of Washington, who were involved in the Juneau Icefield Research Project.
Years later, he helped pilot the private plane John F. Kennedy took from Salt Lake City to Medford, Oregon, while campaigning for president in 1960.
“Jack [Kennedy] just came on up into the cockpit and sat up there with the crew and just talked with them throughout the flight,” Aho said. “Dad just said he had so much charisma and was a people person and just impressed the heck out of him.”
Dunlap settled in Burien with his first wife, Margaret Metty, raising four children.
In 1975, he married Zsan Smith and moved to Edmonds. Every year, they hosted a big Fourth of July bash, which included a baseball game. Dunlap played for the first 10 to 15 years, then became the official scorer, recording every play in every game for more than two decades.
“We only missed two years out of 40 playing baseball, and in the peak years, we would have 30 to 35 players playing ball,” Aho said.
Flying remained a constant.
“He was a flight instructor until he was 88,” Aho said. “He was still current, went to the conferences and got recertified. He taught all my siblings how to fly.”
Aho said when the family holds a graveside service, “We are going to do a missing man formation over the Pleasant Ridge cemetery out at La Conner. One of his buddies is going to fly his plane.”
Dunlap is survived by his wife, daughters Aho and Heidi Dunlap-Inglis, sons Brian and Mark, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“He had a huge life,” Aho said.