George Spencer Cleveland, 101, passed away peacefully on Friday, April 22, 2022, at The Atrium at Navesink Harbor, a life plan community in Red Bank, New Jersey, where he has been living for the past 12 years.
George was born on August 31, 1920, in Newark, New Jersey, the first of four children. His father, Spencer, worked with precious metals for dentistry; his mother, Edna Marguerite (nee Birdsall), was a homemaker. George’s exemplary work ethic started as a youngster picking beans for 5 cents a bushel during the Depression, a fun fact he would often repeat to his children. Always interested in aviation, he saved his money to buy and build model airplanes, believing one day he would be a pilot. Even as war loomed in Europe and the Pacific, the most exciting and perfect day George could recall was when he left home in 1942 to become an aviation cadet in the Army Air Corps. George said his proudest moment was when he first soloed in a Vultee BT-13 Trainer in Waco, Texas. He eventually made 2nd Lieutenant, commanding and instructing new pilots on B-24 Bombers. At a USO dance outside Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1943, George met Joan and, in his wildest dream, asked himself, “Should I get married?!” A year later, they did indeed marry and began a family of four children. After the war, George hired on as a pilot with Eastern Airlines, flying just about every commercial prop and jet in the fleet before retiring in 1980. He often said the highlight of his career was to have his first son Russell crew with him on his last few flights before retiring.
The athletics of George’s youth always stayed with him, including a passion for tennis and archery, pool and horseshoes. Rarely could he be beaten at these, but it was always good sport. He liked the competition of sailing too, in local races and at regattas around New Jersey. Later in retirement, George excelled at bowling and golf. He also learned to downhill ski at the age of 68, which then became a favorite family activity in the mountains of Vermont and the Poconos.
Flying was, and always remained, George’s passion, even in his off-hours, and well into retirement. In his small private plane, he took the family on outings to airshows and flying vacations. There were trips to college and back again. The plane became the family’s second station wagon, especially to Block Island, Rhode Island, where the family spent their summers.
George recently said that he didn’t have any special heroes, rather, he just liked people who did things — those who make things happen. About his life as a supercentenarian, he said he would not change a thing. He said of his family: “They mean everything to me, and I am so proud of every one of them.”
George will be remembered for his winning smile and strong, embracing handshake. He knew the art of conversation and could connect with almost anyone he met. In the collection of our own personal stories with George, we each may fondly recall his good spirit and humor, his enduring grace and elan, and his clear zest for life.
Our Dad was a special soul who is rare in this present world. He was loving, noble, Godly, caring, courageous, and friendly. He was dutiful in every aspect of his life. All of us are so grateful for his life. He will be greatly missed and tenderly remembered.
George is survived by his sister Lillian Marguerite Magruder (nee Cleveland, of St. Petersburg, FL), his son Russell George and wife Carol (of Wall, NJ), son Thomas Alan and wife Chong-Ling (of Clay City, KY), daughter Nancy Elizabeth Patterson (nee Cleveland, of Denver, CO), daughter-in-law Janet K. (nee Keehn, of Bryan, TX), step-daughter Joanne McElwain (nee Stephan) and husband Bruce McElwain (of Boothbay, ME), and step-son Lee Stephan and wife Georgia (of Sarasota, FL); 7 grandchildren: Scott (of Brielle, NJ), Cheryl (of Middletown, NJ), Laurie, Lisa, Tyler, Eric, and Sierra; and 13 great-grandchildren: Logan, Christopher, Alessandra, Mateo, Eva, Ethan, Guinevere, Huxley, Irwin, Joshua, Abigail, Samantha, and Phoebe. George is preceded in death by wife Joan Elizabeth Cleveland (nee Nicolaysen) of 51 years, second wife Dorothy Stephan (nee Whitesell) of 11 years, son Ronald Douglas, son-in-law Chuck Patterson, brother Robert Jerome, and sister Honey (Edith Adele Long, nee Cleveland).
In lieu of flowers you may make a gift in his memory to: The American Lung Association (https://www.lung.org/)
George wished to be cremated and have his ashes placed at Vincent United Methodist Church in Nutley, New Jersey where he attended as a boy.
A Memorial Service will be held on Thursday, June 30th at 1:00pm at the Atrium at Navesink Harbor, 40 Riverside Avenue, Red Bank, NJ.
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