Letter to the editor: Remembering Cleveland’s beloved airport director

Dear editor,

Most of you knew Alf (Vien) through affiliation with the Cleveland airport. Naturally, one would suppose this is where our friendship began. The real beginning was in 1978 when I discovered a muffler problem.

While driving, I noticed an AVS Muffler sign on Highway 59. I exited and pulled over. I asked if it could be fixed without an appointment and while I waited. The owner drove the car onto the lift, fired a torch and went to work. When he finished, I asked him the cost. He replied, “Three bucks.” I responded, “There is no way I am going to pay you three dollars for all the work you did.” He refused to accept more than $5.

That was Alf – always giving more than he asked. Over the next few minutes, we enjoined unusually pleasant and easy conversation. I expressed my intentions to develop a small flight school at the Cleveland Airport, a small, mostly derelict and largely unknown airfield east of Cleveland. He expressed his lifelong interest and fascination with airplanes, which began as a young child.

He smiled as he recalled watching P-51s doing touch-and-gos at an airport near his California home. With that, I invited him out to the airport for an introductory ride. As is said, “The rest is history.” A decades-long friendship was born of mufflers and airplanes.

Over the next 38 years, Alf earned a list of aviation ratings and owned several airplanes. He served as the Cleveland Municipal Airport manager for 24 unforgettable years. With a passion for aviation, uncommon business sense and the respect of all, he built 6R3 into a first-rate satellite airport for the country’s fourth-largest city.

His passion and pride were magnetic. For most of us, going to the airport was as much about spending time with him as it was the flying itself. He fostered relationships that were relentlessly loyal and doggedly protected. Through it all, I regarded him as my only great friend. I am truly blessed to have enjoyed four decades of laughter and the joy of shared experiences.

Illness produces an acute awareness of mortality. Alf responded with unwavering strength, compassion for others and ever-present humor. He endured years of difficult medical procedures with never a complaint. Near the end, he would say with an easy and somehow comforting smile that his future was “time-stamped.”

He stoically described his passing as “like pulling your hand out of water – the hole is filled in; nothing is missing.” In this, he fell short. For those who were truly blessed to know him, a void will forever be present. He will be deeply missed.

In life, we truly own nothing. For a period, we look after physical things that are, for a time, important to us. In the end, it’s the relationships that are, for a time, important to us.

In the end, it’s the relationships that we forged that define our lives and forever impact those closest to us. It doesn’t matter what you leave to someone – only what you leave in someone. Our souls are richly filled from the life of Alf Vien.

For my friend,

Richard Britton

Note: To see Vien’s obituary at Pace-Stancil Funeral Home, go online to http://m.pacestancil.com/obituaries/events?obituaryId=12494598

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