The Saga of Helen and Montgomery Chumbley

by Gail Chumbley

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Montgomery 'Chum' Chumbley

Simply stated, aviation defined the life of Mont Chumbley. Known as "Chum" to his friends, this affable, energetic young man made friends wherever he traveled. His skill as a pilot impressed many people--businessmen, flight students, and fellow pilots.

A flying career seemed a least likely future for this farm boy from Virginia. Generations of his family had worked the same stretch of land at the foot of the Appalachians from the earliest days of the Republic. As eldest son, young Mont was naturally expected to follow the path of his forebears. But, defying tradition, he instead left the land and followed his dream to fly.

I enjoyed meeting Chum, and in fact recorded 15 hours of interviews with him. Poor man, I pummeled him with questions for days on end, and he kindly complied. He spoke honestly regarding his distaste for farm life, and his escape to the coal mines in West Virginia. He talked freely about Helen, and their decision to marry after meeting in South America.

But mostly, Chum talked airplanes. 

Enlisting in the Navy changed the direction of his life. Chum survived flight elimination training and according to him, "never worked another day in his life."  The cockpit became his home, the sky his neighborhood. He piloted aircraft from 1928 onward, flying propeller driven bi-planes through jet-engined DC 8's. 

Despite leaving the Navy in 1933, Chum remained in the Naval Reserves until age forced his retirement. He explained that as a reservist he had the opportunity to fly all of the latest aircraft available to the military. And flying was his life. Of course, World War II diverted his career into other directions, but that story appears in book two.

We brought Chum out west from Florida when he no longer could live by himself. For a year and a half, until his death in October of 2006, I had the opportunity to spend more time in conversation with this interesting man. I sincerely hope that his character as an intrepid, enthusiastic adventurer rings through the pages.

Chum conducted himself as a consummate gentleman. All who knew him would attest to his fine manners and genial personality. Friends enjoyed dropping in to visit him, taking Chum for out for ice cream, or to dinner. And for those living too far away he became adept at email, and other computer programs to stay in touch.

I decided that was why he lived until age 97. The world kept it's wonder for Chum, and new technology was another welcome challenge--as much as those bi-planes had been in 1929.

It was my pleasure and good fortune to have known Mont Chumbley.