Joan and John Walmsley with their children Daniel, Frances and Rachel plus Millie the dog.
Joan and John Walmsley with their children Daniel, Frances and Rachel plus Millie the dog.

Family remembers beloved Lockyer pilot in touching tribute

FOR JOHN Walmsley, flying his hang glider was like being his favourite bird - a wedge tailed eagle.

"That's why I like hang gliding," he would tell his children.

"You're out there in the wind with the elements - it's just like a bird."

John, a hang glider pilot, was tragically killed on Thursday morning doing what he loved - flying.

The 73-year-old crashed at the Gatton Airpark in an ultralight aircraft he had only had a few months.

His daughter, Frances Prentice, said family always came first for her beloved father, but flying was a very close second.

John's first love was his wife and family. His love for his parents and his younger siblings, Bruce and Sally provided a strong foundation for his own life as a young father.

He met his wife, Joan, when he was just a teenager- she was 22 - when she arrived in Melbourne on a boat from Ireland.

 

Pilot John Walmsley in his early 20s. He was always fixing things.
Pilot John Walmsley in his early 20s. He was always fixing things.

 

His family were friends of her uncle, who had come out years earlier as part of the Big Brother Movement.

Ten years later, after Joan had worked as a psychologist and travelled the world, with John now an adult, they met again in country New South Wales in the town of Mudgee - and romance and loved blossomed quickly.

John proposed to Joan under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, loving her independent nature and strength.

But shortly later he was conscripted due to the Vietnam War, so the duo quickly wed, allowing them to live in the married quarters at Digger's Rest while he trained, although he did not end up attending the war.

The couple had three children - Rachel, Frances and Daniel.

Frances said her father was never one to sit still.

With a mechanical engineering degree, John was always building and repairing, and even at 73, continued to play with his Meccano set.

"He wouldn't give it to his grandkids because he would still use it to invent gadgets," Frances said.

 

John Walmsley (third from left) with his parents Alan and Nita Walmsley, and his siblings Bruce and Sally.
John Walmsley (third from left) with his parents Alan and Nita Walmsley, and his siblings Bruce and Sally.

 

John was an avid inventor and has a hospital bed named after him that he designed - The Walmsley Bed ¬ produced by Deutchers. He was very proud of this.

His passion for being active led to a love for flying, which started in 1976.

Living at Ocean Grove at the time, he would take a yellow hang glider up the sand dunes and take off as his family waved goodbye.

"Our weekends were spent going to hang gliding sites with dad and driving him to the top of hills and watching as he took off," Frances said.

Always responsible, he became a safety officer and would watch over other pilots at the sites, making sure they paid attention to the conditions and did safety checks before flying.

In 1985, living in Melbourne, John wanted to become more independent, and fly something he could get off the ground at a local airport.

"He bought an ultralight and it sounded like a chaff cutter," Frances said.

 

John Walmsley with his Chinchilla grandchildren, taken in Dalby by his grandson Joshua Prentice.
John Walmsley with his Chinchilla grandchildren, taken in Dalby by his grandson Joshua Prentice.

 

"It was a modified hang glider with wheels at the end of the A-frame and a little propeller at the back and it was big enough to chug him off down the airfield."

With a passion to share his flying with the family, John went on to buy an ultralight with a pod so he could take passengers without them having to become a pilot.

Frances said her dad loved to see the rainbows in the clouds.

"When you get above the clouds and look down, there's a rainbow outline of the glider on the clouds, and I experienced that with him," she said.

"When I get in a plane I always think of dad. I look out the window and see the clouds below."

John and his wife Joan moved to the Gatton Airpark in April 2018, where he was able to have a hangar at his home.

Like any enthusiast, he was quick to assemble his ultralight in the hanger, but too soon realised, the entrance was too low.

"Dad's whole thing was 'I'll have a hangar where I can leave my ultralight set up and take it out the door', but it was slightly too tall," Frances said.

 

John Walmsley flying his first hang glider in 1977.
John Walmsley flying his first hang glider in 1977.

 

"He had to dismantle part of it to get it out the hangar, then put it back together."

John was passionate about his new community and restored the Airpark's tennis court - bringing the local families together monthly for a game of tennis.

He was keen to help others and quickly made friends as he helped others out and volunteered in numerous ways.

He was recently inducted as the body corporate president.

To continue hang gliding, John recently bought a new ultralight, but this one was more powerful and flew faster.

"He went with another powered hang glider, but this one he could get out of the hanger without dismantling it.

"He had a few concerns with the new one and was starting to get used to it, but wasn't entirely happy with it, then the accident happened."

A coronial inquest will investigate what led to the fatal crash, with Oakey crash investigators assessing the scene.

His son Daniel is flying in from the United States, and it's expected the funeral will follow the required coronavirus quarantine process.

John was the mainstay of his family and will be greatly missed.



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