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Doctor Lee Bernardis

It is with great sadness that the Finger Lakes Soaring club of Dansville New York (50 miles north of Harris Hill Soaring Club) experienced the loss of Doctor Lee Bernardis early in September 2005. Lee was devoted to Soaring, and many knew him, not just in soaring circles, but through his many ventures in life. This biography was prepared by another body building member, boxer and sculptor Bob Cook, of the club.

Lee Had a Ph.D. in Zoology, a Ph.D. in physiology, was a Champion Boxer, Rated Bodybuilder, a soaring pilot and three-Diamond C Badge holder (U.S. #400)! All of the above are distinctions earned by Lee! To really do justice, the Lee Bernardis story could easily fill a book. All we can do here is to attempt to present some of the many facets of the man.

A good beginning to this story would be 1936 when Lee's father joined a gliding club in the city of Graz, Austria. With this influence Lee read everything he could about gliding. He built models, hung around gliding sites and stayed as close as he could to the sport. At age 14 (actually too young to Officially fly) he "weaseled" his way into flight training.

In the Fall of 1941 he was sent up by bungee-launch. (In those days an "A" badge required four flights of 20 seconds and one big one of 30 seconds.) Lee describes the craft in which this was accomplished as having "the sinking rate of a wet piano". Lee flew the "B" just after turning 15. (The "B" badge required five flights of one minute in an S-pattern.) Being below the permitted age, Lee was denied further work toward his "C", which lead to some bad behavior and sloughing off on school work. Some more "weaseling" solved his "C" Badge problem and his father solved his academic problem with a "no improvement in the next report card-no soaring" rule. Somewhat after this Lee, from a 200 meter winch launch flew a Grunau to 1800 meters and stayed aloft for three hours.

In 1949 Lee earned his Ph.D. in Zoology and pursued several different jobs while also taking part in club boxing. In that boxing he won the Austrian Turn and Sportunion Light Middleweight Championship in 1951.

It was also in 1951 that Lee moved to Canada. In 1953 he became Central Ontario Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion. In 1960 he won a high place in the "Mr. Ontario" body-building contest. Somehow, with all the flying, boxing and body building Lee must have paid considerable attention to his education because, in1961 he earned his second Ph.D., this in Physiology.

In 1958 Lee married Barbara, moved to New Orleans and then to Buffalo. Still thirsting for the Gold and Diamond C, he found his way to the Rochester Soaring Club (then flying out of a grass strip at Batavia New York, 30 miles and half way between Rochester and Buffalo) .There he renewed an acquaintance with Kai Gertsen whom he had met in Canada. Among the other people he met, in Lee's own words "the most remarkable was without question Edgar Seymour, the Rhoenvater of this part of the country".

Lee's working life had been filled with outstanding academic achievements, prestigious appointments, memberships in numerous professional organizations and participation in many research and training programs. He has written numerous scientific papers and supervised others in their pursuit of masters and Ph.D. degrees.

In 1962 the club moved to Dansville and in 1964 Lee found himself a part owner of a 1-23 which carried him to his Gold C altitude in 1965. The year 1973 saw him attain the 5,000 meter climb. During the next years Lee flew his 300 km., met a power line in his 1-23D, acquired a 1-34 and put the third diamond onto his badge. With typical father's pride Lee says he has passed on to his son the torch that his father had passed to him. He is proud that his son soloed at 14, received his license at 16 and his silver at 17.

So common were 6, 8 and 10 hour flights at Ridge Soaring that Lee earned the name "Ironpants", a reputation that continued to his last days.

Lee's own words offer the most fitting summary to this story of a skinny boy who chased a dream into mid-life and beyond. "Is such an obsession healthy? I don't know and frankly, I don't care. The sound of the wind, the caressing of the sun. the orgasmic surge of the thermals, the many friendships, the feeling of absolute power-they always were, always are and always will be worthwhile. They are indeed the ultimate turn-on."

by Bob Cook, FLSC

Posted: 3/1/2006

Final Glide 

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