Jumpers Say Goodbye To The Queen
By Jim Crouch
There is an old saying about death that states: “They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and the second, a bit later on, when somebody mentions your name for the last time.” If that’s the case, Carolyn Clay will never truly die. On Friday, June 29, approximately 350 of Clay’s friends gathered at Virginia Skydiving Center in Petersburg to say a final good-bye to their beloved Queen of Skydiving.
Soon after her death, attributed to a hard-opening main parachute on May 31, plans for her memorial event began. Virginia Skydiving Center was down to just a single Cessna 182 after losing an engine in its King Air. More and bigger aircraft were needed! So neighboring DZ Skydive Orange graciously provided its Twin Otter, arranged for a CASA from Raeford Aviation and provided a bunch of staff to help with manifesting and packing. Dozens of Clay’s closest and oldest friends also sprang into action to help staff the event and pitch in where needed.
With the planes and support crew lined up, the organizers planned to have her memorial service and a CASA load of jumpers spread part of her ashes at the Middle Peninsula Regional Airport in West Point, where Clay had jumped for 35 years until 2011 when the DZ closed, and then move everything to Virginia Skydiving Center for the weekend, where there would be another ash dive. However, the West Point airport authority changed its mind and rescinded its offer just two days before the jump, citing concerns over the large crowd and a lack of facilities at the airport. So in a last-minute scramble, everyone pulled together and moved the entire event to Virginia Skydiving Center.
Clay’s friends began trickling in midday on Friday. They came from near and far, and by the early evening, the hangar was full. It was literally a who’s who of Central Virginia jumping, a reunion of former and current jumpers that only someone like Clay could have brought together. The jumpers told countless stories and renewed old friendships. Roger Ponce de Leon, Clay’s favorite boogie organizer, arranged her 26-way ash dive, and he invited anyone in the hangar who had ever jumped with her to pick up grips. Everyone then paused in her honor as the huge formation covered half the hangar. The 26-way then headed to the CASA between two rows of jumpers who watched her final walk to the airplane, carried in the same pink ash bag that had also carried the ashes of her friends lost in the 1995 Queen Air crash at West Point.
The formation built well. The jumpers left an open slot in the 6-way base for Clay, while the other jumpers formed around it. Her ashes were released at 6,000 feet and made a beautiful white cloud in the clear blue skies. It’s impossible to measure the impact Carolyn Clay had on so many skydivers around the world. But with so many friends to remember her and tell her story, she’ll live on forever.
Jim Crouch | D-16979
Ruther Glen, Virginia