Long-time aviator retires

Former newspaper owner flew small planes, sailed around the world, wrote books

Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2000

No doubt, Jamie Bryson has lots of experience flying the skies of Alaska. He stops short, however, of calling himself a weary veteran.

"I'm not a super high-time aviator," said Bryson, 65, who's retiring from Wings of Alaska this week the most recent of his aviation adventures after 30 years of professional flying.

"I've got 7,200 hours. For my age that's not a whole lot. If I were full-time I'd have double that, but who'd want to spend that much time in a cockpit?" he asked with a laugh.

Bryson, who's flown floatplanes mostly, has split time with his favorite passions family, flying, writing and sailing.

His professional career began in 1955 as a journalist in San Diego, and included 12 years at a San Diego Union newspaper, where he did general assignment work, military reporting and editing.

In 1968 he learned to fly.

"Then I realized I couldn't afford to fly so I went and got credentials to become a flight instructor," he said.

He came to Alaska in 1970 and planned to spend a year editing the Wrangell Sentinel newspaper for a pal. He ended up buying the newspaper.

"And I'm still here," he said. "That's a typical Alaska phenomenon."

He also had a flight training school in Wrangell called Alaska Flight Trails. Then he started the Petersburg Pilot newspaper in 1974. In 1976 he sold both newspapers to focus on flying.

"I was stretched too thin. I had a newspaper empire and all I had to do was work 100 hours a week and I'd have made it," he joked.

He and his first wife were raising seven children, which took a considerable amount of time. Then she died in a plane crash.

"It was one of our flight school airplanes," said Bryson, who was piloting the plane and sustained back injuries in the crash. "It had a structural problem in the air."

He said he still has a hard time revisiting the accident and dealing with the emotional pain.

"It doesn't go away. You just don't go there," Bryson said. "It was black as black there is. But I had to come home. I had seven children waiting."

In 1974 he married his second wife, Marjorie. "I don't know why she did it. God told her to help me, I guess," Bryson said.

A long-time primary-grades teacher, Marjorie retired last year from the Northwest Arctic School District.

Bryson eased himself out of flight instruction and began flying for three different air taxi companies out of Wrangell Stikine Air, Wrangell Air and Diamond Aviation. Many of his flights were logging industry missions.

"The people were heroic, out of a different era altogether," he said of the loggers. "They worked hard that's a lot of what I remember about it."

In the late 1970s Bryson, his wife and his youngest son, Stuart, loaded their 30-foot cutter sailboat Ave Del Mar (Bird of the Sea) and sailed around the world.

He wrote a book on the five-year experience, "First Time Around" but said he's more proud of a piece of fiction he wrote called "The War Canoe."

The story, about a Tlingit boy growing up in Wrangell, was used in some Southeast elementary schools.

He returned from the voyage in 1983 and went right back to work in the Wrangell taxi industry. In 1989 he came to Juneau and flew for Taku Air and in 1994 he began with Wings.

"I really have mixed emotions about retiring. I like the comradery with the other employees," Bryson said. "I'll miss them. I've really enjoyed my time."

He said he'll probably continue to fly, though he admits, "I like to fly somebody else's airplane with somebody else's gas and get paid for it."

He's anxious to do more sailing and visiting with family. Three of his children live in Alaska. The others live in Idaho and New York. He has 12 grandchildren. Six of them live in Alaska, so he said he'll be back here plenty, though he isn't sure where his main home will be.

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