In Memoriam

Edward "Ed" Weilbacher '74
A Coast Guard hero, he rescued lost souls and stray cats.

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Retired Lt. Cmdr. Ed Weilbacher made more than one career out of rescuing others from various predicaments. In his first career, as a pilot with the Coast Guard, he saved numerous lives. In a particularly dramatic incident in 1973, he and the crew of his C-130 aircraft saved a Norwegian sailor who had been clinging to a life raft for three days after escaping from a sinking ship off the coast of New Jersey during a storm. The daring rescue, in which two men parachuted 1,000 feet from the airplane into the ocean, made national and international news, and the Norwegian government hailed the men's bravery.

Weilbacher retired from the Coast Guard in 1976 and began his second career, earning a law degree from Washington and Lee University in 1979. He first turned his attention to the poor, serving as head of the legal aid office in Lexington, Va., for 10 years. He also taught law at Washington and Lee, and eventually became the city attorney for Poconoke, Md.

Weilbacher, who died at age 75 on September 6, 2013, following a brief illness, was married twice. He had two sons, Michael and Nathan, with his first wife, the late Mary Alice Sayler, and he had a daughter, Elektra Weilbacher Etebari, with Lindsey Stringfellow Weilbacher, his wife of 46 years. At home, he tended gardens overflowing with flowers and vegetables, grew grapes, and made wines, including an award-winning riesling.

Etebari fondly recalls a time when her father wove some advice about persistence into a story about a failed airplane engine. "First you try plan A," he told her. "If A doesn't work, you try B. If B doesn't work you try C, and you keep going down the list until you either fix the problem or crash!" A standard lecture about never giving up would have had little impact, says Etebari, a teenager at the time. But her father's tale of danger and action, tempered with humor, delivered the message in a memorable way.

Weilbacher's rescue efforts didn't end when he retired, and they weren't limited to humans, Etebari notes. He helped establish an animal sanctuary in Maryland, for example, and just recently he'd saved the life of a kitten he named Lucky. After seeing the kitten injured in a hit and run, he scooped up the bloodied animal and headed for the nearest vet. Lucky made a full recovery, says Etebari, and, since her father's death, has been a source of comfort to the family.

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