Valley News – Balloon pilot Brian Boland was a major Post Mills figure


POST MILLS – Late Thursday afternoon, Varina Southworth and Toby Huggett and their two children were at Morey Lake in Fairlee when they saw Brian Boland’s balloon hovering above their heads.

It was a familiar sight. The Southworth-Huggett family live next to the grassy airfield of Boland’s sprawling barn-shaped residence at Post Mills, and they often wake up at dawn to the roar of Boland’s propane burner blowing up the one of his balloons.

“Oh look, there’s our neighbor,” Southworth exclaimed to her children, ages 3 and 1, as everyone waved to the balloon flying high in the sky.

Huggett said he saw Boland’s balloon drift “towards Bradford, Vt.” And only learned on Friday morning that a heart-wrenching balloon accident and later a fall from the basket claimed the lives of their friend and neighbor. a few minutes later. .

“I still can’t believe it,” Huggett said. “Brian was an integral part of our neighborhood.

Called by friends and neighbors “a genius”, “creative”, “a collector of curious things”, “generous” and “eccentric in a playful and gentle way”, Boland, 72, leaves a legacy in his hamlet of Vermont as a giant like the balloons he flew.

“His absence leaves our entire community in deep sorrow,” said Pippa Drew, a Post Mills artist who, like many of her neighbors, recalled how “Brian’s balloons hovered over us or occasionally landed in our room. field, “describing it as” completely magical. ”

Summer or winter, spring or fall, Boland could be seen flying one of his balloons, often accompanied by passengers, whether paying tourists or friends he was giving away for free as the winds pushed him to either side of the sea. Connecticut River.

He sewed the balloons himself on one of the dozens of sewing machines he kept at home, which he had turned into Chitty chitty bang bang-like a “museum” crammed with antique “airships”, Model T cars, fire trucks, motorcycles, wicker baskets, Polaroid cameras, plastic flamingos and a Nazi submarine about the size of a pint.

“Brian’s passion was all historic. He loved old things, ”said Brent Southworth, owner of Jay’s Septic Tank Cleaning in Thetford Center, whose family, including daughter Varina Southworth, have lived at Post Mills for four generations and once owned the land and airfield that Boland acquired later. “Often times he explained to me how important it was to keep Post Mills as it was for the future.”

A world-renowned balloon pilot who debuted in the 1970s, Boland has flown over the Alps and the Andes and logged over 10,000 flight hours, built over 200 balloons and, in 1995, broke a world record for the Class BX-3 “hot air blimp” when climbed to 20,496 feet and flew 75 miles, according to the Balloon Federation of America.

“He knew the drafts in South America,” said Tom Blinkhorn, a former Hanover resident who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and recruited Boland to lecture on hot air ballooning at the continuing education program of Dartmouth.

He said Boland once showed him a photo showing a calf in the air in a balloon.

“He was always heckling with stuff like that,” Blinkhorn said.

Boland was moving from Connecticut, where he had been a high school teacher, when he purchased the 54-acre property that included an airfield initially cleared by the Southworth family in the 1930s.

“He’s always been generous with balloon rides with neighbors,” said Richard Sheppe, a retired engineer who lives across the airfield and is a flight instructor with the Post Mills Soaring Club and has is part of a “chase team” – people who follow a balloon in flight to retrieve it when it lands. He said Boland intended to keep Post Mills Airport small for a handful of flying and ballooning enthusiasts.

Although beloved by many in Post Mills and Thetford, Boland was not without controversy in a small town, only in Vermont.

In 2010, he and volunteers built a 122-foot-long and 25-foot-high structure, dubbed “Vermontasaurus” from waste wood on the airfield. Some in Thetford argued that the structure required a building permit, but the city eventually accepted that it was “art” – and the District 3 Environmental Commission also granted a Law 250 permit. because the wooden dinosaur model did not endanger the wildlife.

Balloons are often thought of as silent orbs floating in the sky, but in fact, they make their presence known. Now residents of Post Mills say the absence of Boland and his balloons above their heads will only leave a void.

“The best part of the day is hearing the propane tanks light up and you know Brian is on top of you,” said Alissa Southworth, another of Brent Southworth’s daughters, who grew up at Post Mills. .

“At night, families sit and watch gliders and small planes and usually a sunset balloon fly, always Brian at the helm, waving his hand. He was an extremely interesting, talented, caring, passionate and unique person, ”she said. “It’s rare these days that one person can have such a profound impact on an entire community. ”

Contact John Lippman at [email protected]

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