ALTUS, Okla. - Maj. Benjamin Nelson Bailey, USAF (Ret.) of Altus, Okla., passed away peacefully on Monday, Oct. 29, at his home with family at his bedside. He had attended a concert tribute "Celebrating Ben Bailey" on Saturday night.
Ben was born on June 16, 1932 in Carbondale, Pa., the son of Doris Nelson Bailey, a piano tuner, and Marion Stackhouse Bailey, a school teacher. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Salem, Ohio, where Ben prepared for his dual careers by learning to fly and studying piano. He graduated from Salem High School in 1950. He then attended Ohio State University, where he was a member of Theta Chi fraternity and ROTC. He graduated in 1954 with a Bachelors of Arts in Music. In 1974 he earned a Master of Arts in Business Management.
He was married to Barbara Petersen of Port Clinton, Ohio, and in 1955 they embarked on a 20-year career in the United States Air Force. While stationed at Lockbourne AFB in Columbus, Ohio, Ben piloted B-47 bombers. He then trained on B-52 bombers and transferred to Bergstrom AFB in Austin, Texas. During his subsequent posting at March AFB in Riverside, Calif., he served extended tours of duty in Guam, Thailand and Vietnam. Upon his return from Vietnam, he was transferred to Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico and later to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. He retired from the Air Force with the rank of Major while posted to Altus AFB in Oklahoma.
After his military retirement, he made his home in Altus and married Shirlee Freeman. He continued his dual vocations of flying and music for the rest of his life. He played organ for several churches in Altus, taught piano, and was involved in many civic groups including the Shortgrass Arts & Humanities Council, and the Main Street Jazz Group. He performed an annual concert "The Organ Plays for Christmas" in addition to accompanying the performances of Handel's Messiah. In addition, he led the effort to bring public radio to Altus.
At the same time, he taught flying at Western State Community College, he served as Designated Flight Examiner for Southwest Oklahoma, and worked as a simulator test pilot for Flight Services Corporation until 2010. In September he was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, in recognition of 50 years of safe operations and piloting expertise.
Ben was a member of the Lion's Club, Alpha Eta Rho Aviation fraternity, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assoc., the Experimental Aircraft Assoc., the American Guild of Organists, the Piano Technicians Guild and the American Theater Organ Society.
Ben is survived by his wife, Shirlee Freeman Bailey; children, Kristen Bailey (Michael) Abney of Port Clinton, Ohio, Eric (Teri) Bailey of Dallas, TX and Gretchen Bailey (Brian Zydiak) of Culver City, CA; grandchildren Charlotte Abney of Washington, DC, Kevin Abney of Brooklyn, N.Y., Christopher, Jonathan, Michael and Erica Bailey of Dallas, Texas, Per and Cameron Bailey-Zydiak of Culver City, Calif.; his sister, Nancy Bailey (Oscar) Sundstedt of Davenport, Iowa; stepdaughters Dr. Jeanne Ann (Rusty) King and Margaret (Mark) Muenchow of Oklahoma City, and their children, Ryan (Savanna) Copley, and Anna, Betsy and Emily King.
A gala concert celebrating the life of Ben Bailey was held on Saturday, Oct. 27, with Ben in attendance. A memorial service was held on Saturday, Nov. 3 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Altus, Okla.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the Organ Fund at First United Methodist Church, PO Box 502, Altus, OK 73522, to St. Paul's Episcopal Church at 721 N Thomas St, Altus, OK 73521, or to KCCU Public Radio at www.KCCU.org.