Dick Gilbert was born in 1924 in Louisville, Kentucky. Although he traveled all over the world, this is where his heart always was. So it is fitting that the legacy he left through his endowment continues to support the community that he loved.
Prior to his death from colon cancer in 1999, Dick Gilbert had drafted a majority of his autobiography into a book titled 'Just My Luck', which his daughter published posthumously in April of 2001 (see the 'Contact Us' page to purchase a copy). As soon as he graduated from Male High School, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier on a B-26, flying missions over Europe during WWII. He was shot down over Germany in February of 1945, and became a prisoner of war. Thankfully, his prison camp was liberated in May of that year.
When he returned to the United States, he went to college on the GI Bill, receiving a degree in Architectural Engineering from the University of Illinois. But flying was in his blood. So he re-enlisted in what was now the Air Force, and became one of the first pilots trained to fly helicopters. His helicopter career both in and out of the military was adventurous, to say the least: he flew the first scientists in after the H-bomb was detonated on Eniwetok atoll in the Marshall Islands; and, he was on the U.S. Geodetic Survey team that provided the first detailed survey of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. In his civilian career, he dropped pipe by helicopter to crews in the Louisiana swamps; he flew night missions over northern Indiana peach orchards to save the fruit from early-season freezes; and he delivered canceled checks between bank heliports in New York City. He flew many celebrities and notables including former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. He even made a movie called 'A Lovely Way to Die' in 1968 with Kirk Douglas!
But his story had a capstone in Louisville, after he returned to his hometown following the death of his wife in a car accident in New York in 1969. He had been working for WHAS radio providing traffic reports during the morning and evening rush hours for about four years when his defining moment occurred. On the afternoon of April 3rd, 1974, an EF-5 tornado touched down at the airport in Louisville and ravaged the city. Dick Gilbert was airborne in his helicopter when the weather turned ugly. He could clearly see the storm, so he stayed up and circled around behind the tornado, giving live reports on its path and the destruction it left behind. He was quite literally the eyes of the city, and many people credited him for saving lives that day. He received much recognition and many awards for his actions, including the Presidential Commendation from President Richard Nixon.
Click here to listen to a portion of Dick Gilbert's live radio broadcast, when the April 3rd, 1974 tornado was first sighted:
In the decade that followed, Dick Gilbert became a household name in Louisville. When he retired in 1984, all of the local television stations covered the story.
Dick Gilbert was a voracious reader, enjoyed playing the electronic organ, loved to tinker around the family home, and spent a large part of his retirement traveling in his motor home across the United States. He believed in prudent investing. In fact, The Gilbert Foundation endowment resulted from an investment he made with a small group of Air Force officers that purchased several orange groves in central Florida in the late 1950's. 'Air Groves, Inc.' was only marginally profitable; fortuitously, they were able to sell out to a company in 1972 that wanted to develop the land . . . by the name of Walt Disney, Inc.