by Henry Lane Hull
Over the past three decades few residents of the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck have equaled the level of service witnessed by that of Harry Madsen of Saluda. Harry was a dedicated and committed volunteer, who continued in the spirit of his illustrious wartime service in the U.S. Navy throughout his entire life. Last week he died at the age of 93, well beloved by many in our two peninsulas.
Harry was a native of California, who as a young high school graduate first worked in a radio factory in New Jersey, and then enlisted at 18 to do his part in support of the war effort. He quickly became an ensign and entered flight school. He spent the war as a naval aviator, flying many missions in the Pacific Theater. Following the war he flew during the Berlin Airlift, when the wartime allies defied Stalin’s blockade of the city by keeping the residents supplied with food, medicine and fuel. Thereafter, remaining in the reserves, he joined Eastern Airlines as a pilot, during which tenure he flew commercially for over 35 years.
After retiring from Eastern, Harry and his wife, Joan, whom he had met through her work as a stewardess for Eastern, moved from the Washington suburbs to a home near Saluda, where they lived on the Rappahannock River and where Harry became involved in Republican politics. He served for many years as chairman of the Middlesex Republican Committee, and with his friend, the late Winkie McGeorge, founded the annual Three Rivers Republican Rally that brought hundreds together each fall in preparation for the November elections.
In that arena he became widely known throughout the Tidewater area. For a start, with his brilliant white hair and mustache he made an immediate impression as a gentleman of distinction. He was an articulate speaker, who immediately commanded the attention of his audience and a tireless worker for the causes and individuals in whom he placed his trust. Through his political activities he became known across the Commonwealth as one whose opinions mattered because they were reasoned soundly and stated coherently. Harry enjoyed the give and take of politics and being able to pull people together to work for the common good.
Despite his lifetime in the air, he continued to manifest the wanderlust impulse and he and Joan traveled extensively. They also were also connoisseurs of fine wines and frequently crossed the Norris Bridge to visit the wine shops of the Northern Neck, where Harry carefully would study each bottle in a wide array before selecting the one that he thought would be right for a particular occasion.
Harry was a master conversationalist. Listening to him was akin to reliving history, as he described his exploits and manifold areas of service over the course of his long life. He never was daunted in his undertakings and knew not the concept of fear. As his generation passes into history, its legacy is all the more important to those coming along in its wake, needing to remember the words of Santayana frequently quoted by President Eisenhower, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.”
Whether as a teenager fresh out of high school, as a factory worker in New Jersey, or a young officer of the U.S. Navy, or a career professional pilot, or the consummate volunteer, Harry always was one who counted in any venue in which he was involved. The son of immigrants from Denmark, he was passionate about America, and totally committed to carrying out his part in whatever venue he found himself to contributing to preserving the ideals that made this county great.
Harry Vastrup Madsen, December 26, 1924 – August 26, 2018. R.I.P.