Gwen Bloomingdale (1941-2001).
Gwendolyn Bloomingdale and her partner of 15 years, Barbara Gard (1948-2001), set out in 2001 on what they planned as a round-the-world journey in the twin-engine plane they shared and piloted. Instead, they were killed at the outset.
Bloomingdale was a great-granddaughter of Lyman G. Bloomingdale, cofounder of Bloomingdale’s department store in New York. She had practiced law in Boston and was deeply involved in efforts leading to the passage in 1989 of a statewide law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and services. Gard was a veteran of the Marine Corps, a retired major in the National Guard and an experienced mechanic.
For a time, the couple ran an aviation-themed shop called Last Flight Out, which opened in the Aquarium Mall. They also owned and operated Willie Air Tours. But they threw themselves into community service, as well. Bloomingdale served on the Airport Commission and the Cape Cod Commission, and was also active in the governance of the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House. Though the two women were not married — it was not yet possible — they both wore rings inscribed: “Dare. Dream. Discover.”
Inspired by a National Geographic article on the 1919 air race from London to Melbourne, Gard and Bloomingdale began making plans for their own adventure. They purchased and reconditioned a 1973 Aero Commander. They planned an itinerary that would take them to Keflavik, Iceland, and then to Biggin Hill Airport, south of London, where they would join and participate in a London-to-Sydney air race. After finishing that race and crossing the Pacific, they planned to participate in a second competition, the cross-country Air Race Classic for women pilots, on their way home.
They took off from Keflavik on the morning of 6 March 2001 and climbed to 15,000 feet. At 8:55 a.m., a radio signal from the plane was received by authorities in Iceland. About five minutes later, the aircraft disappeared from their radar screens. The next contact with the Aero Commander was as wreckage off Westman Island, along Iceland’s southern coast. The bodies of Gard and Bloomingdale were recovered.
Gard was buried in Indiana. Bloomingdale was buried here, under an orb-topped monument inscribed: “Dare. Dream. Discover.” It is a lovely and heartening epitaph. But something else Bloomingdale said struck me as a fitting valedictory, too. Before she and Gard departed, she was asked by The Banner what could possibly come next after a round-the-world journey. “We’ll probably find the next road out there on our trip,” she answered, “somewhere along the way.”
¶ Last updated on 11 June 2017.
Provincetown’s Historic Cemeteries and Memorials, Key A-76, Page 23.
Gwen was a good friend and I always admired her boundless energy. R.I.P. Gwen and Barbara.