Philip Bolger

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BOLGER, PHILIP H., a former deputy undersecretary of U.S. Dept. of Transportation, NASA executive and Navy fighter and test pilot, died on the evening of Nov. 4 at the John and Arloine Mandrin Chesapeake Hospice House in Harwood, Md. He was 87 years old and a resident of Annapolis. During World War II, Philip enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of seventeen and shortly thereafter was chosen by presidential appointment for admission to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1948. In June of that same year, he married Gloria Hart, his surviving wife, with whom he had a family of five children. In the early 1950s he served as a test pilot for two years at the Patuxent Naval Air station, where he was a member of that program's second class, serving alongside the future astronaut and senator, John Glenn. He was an expert aviator who flew many types of aircraft before, during and after military aviation's development from propeller engines to supersonic jet aircraft. In his next assignment he was an aircraft carrier pilot who flew with VF 211, "The Fighting Checkmates," whose skipper was Adm. James Stockdale, for two deployments -- one on the USS Bonhomme Richard and the other on the USS Midway. During this time he saw extensive service in the Taiwan Strait conflict. After 18 years of active duty in the Navy, he joined the fledgling NASA space program and was selected as one of a hundred astronaut candidates for the first manned space flight missions. He served as deputy director of safety for the Gemini and Apollo programs under Mr. Jerry Lederer, an international pioneer in flight safety. In the wake of the Vietnam War, Philip was appointed by the president of the United States to head a special White House program to assist returning veterans with drug addictions. Later, he served as deputy undersecretary for safety at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Following his civil service career and retirement as a Navy reserve officer, he was president of the Flight Safety Foundation, as well as president of the International Aeronautical Federation. He was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. In retirement, he served as volunteer president of the Naval Academy Flying Club. Philip was born in 1926 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the older of two children. As a young boy, he lost his own father, a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, to an early death, leaving Philip at the age of six as "the man in the family" for his mother, Mary, and younger brother, John. He attended Tenafly High School. He loved sports, most of all baseball and football, which he played as a young man in New Jersey, fondly recalling an occasion the day his team played against that of St. Elizabeth High School, led at the time by the famed coach Vince Lombardi, who gave him a pat on the helmet and an "Atta boy, Red" -- referring to his thick head of bright hair -- after he made a notable play on the field. He enjoyed designing and building houses, as well as gardening. While stationed in California, he cultivated grapevines. Later, in Maryland, he grew roses and other ornamental plants. He loved pets, including dogs and cats, and near the end of his life he kept a small flock of chickens. He was a devoted Catholic and a member of the Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist at St. Mary's Church in Annapolis. As a younger man, he was the principle of the CCD program at Holy Redeemer Elementary School in Kensington, Md., where served on the board and where all five of his children graduated. He was beloved by his friends for his ready wit and his ability to laugh at his own foibles. He was a keen student of world history with a deep knowledge and love of geography that was enriched by his travels as a naval aviator and a senior government official. A true patriot and a committed warrior, he was a man that you wanted on your side in a fight. Philip was a devoted husband and father who always provided a fine home for his family and saw that all his children were supported through their higher education years. He continued to take a keen interest in his children's' lives as adults, and in his grandchildren, offering advice, counsel and support whenever it was sought. Ensuring to the utmost of his ability that his family was well provided for in body and spirit occupied the forefront of his thoughts and efforts to the very end of his life. In true form, he stoically battled the difficulties of ill health that advanced years dealt him, and at the very end left this world on his own terms. He will be missed deeply by the many people he leaves behind that he loved and who loved him as a shipmate, a friend, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. Philip was preceded in death by two grandchildren. He is survived by his wife, Gloria. M Hart; sons Philip Michael Bolger, of Annapolis, Md., Richard O Bolger, of Oak Hill, Va., James V. Bolger, of Princeton, Mass. and Raymond L. Bolger, of West River, Md.; and one daughter Mary Hart Johnson, of Lorton, Va. and eleven grandchildren. A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered on Saturday, November 9 at 9am at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 109 Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis, MD. Interment St. Mary's Queen of Peace Cemetery, Mechanicsville, MD. An online guest book is available at

Published in The Capital on Nov. 8, 2013
bullet U.S. Army bullet U.S. Navy bullet Vietnam War bullet World War II