BARTLESVILLE, Okla. — Virgil Eugene Gaede, 84, of Bartlesville, Okla., passed away at 10 a.m. Tuesday (Dec. 22, 2009) at Jane Phillips Medical Center.
Virgil’s life was rich with career accomplishment, active community service and devotion to family.
He was born the oldest of three brothers in Kansas and grew up in Newton, graduating from high school in 1943.
After high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and attended college as part of his officer’s training. In 1946, at the completion of World War II, he earned his Naval Aviator’s Wings, attaining the rank of lieutenant (JG). During his training, he flew Navy Stearman N2S-4 primary trainer biplanes, engendering a love for biplanes that would last even into this century. He also flew Douglas SBD Navy dive bombers and, after the war, he remained in the U.S. Naval reserves for the next 20 years.
After his military discharge, he resumed studies in aeronautical engineering at Wichita State University, where he met his life’s love, Lavonne Briley. They married on Jan. 25, 1948, and were devoted to each other for nearly 62 years.
After marrying, they moved to Norman, Okla., where Virgil switched majors, graduating with a master’s degree in chemical engineering in 1951.
He worked for Phillips Petroleum Co. for 35 years, starting in 1950 at the Plains Butadiene plant in Borger, Texas. He transferred to Bartlesville in 1952, where he assisted the design of Phillips chemical plants and held several patents.
In the fall of 1956, he moved to Pasadena, Texas, as process engineering supervisor, where he helped to set up the first “Marlex” high-density polyethylene plant. He reached the position of process supervisor and began developing the human relations and management skills that served him so well for the rest of his career. He always had genuine affection for all of his employees.
In 1964, he left Pasadena to transfer back to Bartlesville. He treasured the going-away present he received from employees at the Pasadena plant for the rest of his life.
After returning to Bartlesville, he became progressively more engaged in management, eventually becoming director of commercial development in the chemical department, where he and his group were responsible for finding new commercial uses for products developed by Research and Development.
In 1974, he was promoted to manager of development planning, overseeing planning and development of Phillips companies all over the world. In 1979, he became manager of licensing and, when he retired in August 1985, he was the worldwide general manager of specialty chemicals for Phillips.
Even before retirement, he enthusiastically participated in community organizations. He was active in the Methodist church, where he led adult Sunday school classes. He was a member of the Bartlesville Jaycees and was a charter member of the Bartlesville Junior Achievement Board of Directors and its first president.
Following retirement, he remained tirelessly philanthropic. A few of the organizations to which he devoted time include ARC and EmployAbility, where he was a board member for more than 20 years, the noon Rotary club, the Bartlesville Symphony Orchestra and the Bartlesville Area Chamber of Commerce.
He maintained his lifelong love of aviation with more than 20 years participation in the National Biplane Association’s Biplane Expo, held in Bartlesville. Working under Charles Harris, the Biplane association chairman, Virgil served as Biplane Expo director from 1991 through the final Expo in 2009.
Aviators from around the world sent their well wishes during his illness. He loved and believed in his community and served on the board of the Bartlesville Development Corp., where he also was chairman of the incentive committee and helped design the incentive packages for the ABB building and the Wal-Mart Distribution Center. Always athletic, Virgil was an avid golfer and was a past president of Hillcrest Country Club.
When not volunteering, Virgil was committed to church and devoted to friends and family. Everyone who knew him recalls his easy smile, his genuine warmth and his generosity of time and spirit. All of us who knew him have experienced profound loss.
Virgil is survived by LaVonne, his wife of 62 years; son Dr. Steve Gaede, MD, and his wife, Carol of Tulsa; daughter Jan Blackmon and her husband, Craig of Dallas; five grandchildren, Lauren Gaede Lower and Elisa Gaede of New York City, Katherine Gaede of Tulsa, Hayley Blackmon Grafflin and Bryce Blackmon of Dallas; and a brother, Robert Lee Gaede of Newton.
He was preceded in death by his youngest brother, Carl Dean Gaede of Pasadena, Calif.
Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. today at First United Methodist Church with the Rev. Buz Wierick officiating. Memorial services and cremation are under the direction of Stumpff Funeral Home and Crematory.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to a charity of your choice.