A Change of Plans
Our "vacation-without-the-kids" in Europe became a memory we never expected.
By Guy W. "Pat" Gupton Jr.
Statue

In the fall of 1961, my wife, Dot, and I signed up to go on the "First Georgia Tech Holiday in Europe," planned for May of 1962–a three-week tour of Western Europe. We had been married for 13 years and had four children, ranging in age from 12 to 7, and we looked forward to a vacation by ourselves. We received all the material describing the tour, sent in our reservations, and Dot lined up a babysitter for the three-week period.

Just after Christmas of 1961, I received a call from Roane Beard, then the executive director of the Alumni Association and an old acquaintance of mine. They had not received enough reservations to make the Tech trip work out. Roane knew how much we wanted to make a trip to Europe, so he suggested that we make reservations to go on the Atlanta Art Association trip that was to leave a week later for a similar three-week period, and with visits to many of the same places. The person in charge of reservations for the art association trip was a neighbor of ours, and Dot signed us up.

For the next few months there were many parties celebrating the upcoming art association trip. The founding principal of the engineering firm where I worked, along with his sister, her son (who was an associate in the firm), his wife and their two teenage daughters all signed up, along with many of our old friends and acquaintances. When I would remark about how much we were looking forward to the trip, Dot would say, "We can't go on that trip. I have been unable to get our babysitter to shift to a week later." I would ask her to find another babysitter, but, for some reason, she refused to do so.

We were lucky. In mid-March–just before the time that reservations for the art association trip could not be canceled without penalty–Roane called again. He and the Georgia Tech travel representative had come up with another plan, and the trip was on again. I jumped at the chance to go. We received a refund from the art association, along with their best wishes for a good trip with the Tech group.

We enjoyed the Tech trip and particularly enjoyed crossing paths with some of our friends from the Atlanta Art Association group. Little did we know how much those meetings would mean to us later. Leaving London's Heathrow Airport on the way back, Dot was glum. There had been two plane crashes in the United States while we were gone. Dot was sure that there would be a third crash, and she did not want to be on it. All the way back to Atlanta aboard the Pan American DC-7, she worried about a plane crash. She was really happy to get home. The only person happier with our arrival was the babysitter.

Back at the office, we all looked forward to hearing from our friends about the Atlanta Art Association trip. It was not to be. On June 3, 1962, the Sunday morning after our return, I received a call: The Air France plane carrying the Atlanta Art Association group had crashed during takeoff from Orly Field in Paris.

The bad news came in over the radio: only two stewardesses had survived the Boeing 707 crash. All 111 people from Atlanta–everyone traveling with the Atlanta Art Association group–perished. We lost many friends; some of them were very close friends.

After spending some hours after church and helping prepare obituaries, it dawned on me that I had not checked in with my grandmother. She was the person who had raised me after my parents' deaths. I had kept in touch with her about the trip–except the change back to the Georgia Tech trip. When I phoned her home in Cave Spring, Ga., a hushed voice answered. I was told that my grandmother was in seclusion, thinking we had died in the plane crash. I was able to tell her we were not on that flight.

We attended the burial of six dear friends in Savannah's Bonaventure Cemetery. That was one of the saddest days of my life.

The terrible tragedy was an impetus to form the Atlanta Arts Alliance and the building of the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center. Rodin's sculpture, "The Shade," was given to Atlanta by the French government in memory of the Orly victims and is on display at the High Museum in the Arts Center.

It was more than 30 years later before I spoke with Roane about the ill-fated art association flight. He had forgotten his role in saving our lives. But it was only because of his role in arranging the Georgia Tech tour that we did not take that fateful trip with the Atlanta Art Association.

Pat Gupton, Cls '47, is semi-retired from Gupton Engineering Associates and "living on my ranch and running The Pleasant Pheasant Bed and Breakfast" in Paradise Valley, Livingston, Mt. His father, the late Guy Winfred Gupton, was a 1926 electrical engineering graduate of Tech. Pat taught part-time in the School of Mechanical Engineering from 1977 through 1983 and is now involved in the design of corrosion control facility buildings for large aircraft, such as the Boeing 747, Lockheed C-5 and McDonnell Douglas C-17. Pat's oldest grandchild is a great-nephew of the late Roane Beard and is named for him.