Donald T. Foley, Aviator and Activist

May 25, 1921-June 30, 2014

Donald T. Foley, a fighter pilot during World War II who was instrumental in developing the Montauk Airport and had overseen the opening of nine airport terminals at Newark, LaGuardia, and Kennedy Airports, died at his Montauk home on June 30. He was 93 and his health had been declining over the past year.  

Mr. Foley’s long career in aviation dates back to his graduation from Curtis High School on Staten Island when he joined the Air National Guard. Enlisting in the Air Force, he was trained as an aerial gunner and then assigned to the 82nd Fighter Group after Pearl Harbor. He flew combat missions in a Lockheed P-38 Lightning over Africa, Eastern Europe, and Germany for 10 months, saying years later that he didn’t expect to see his 21st birthday. He was discharged as a captain and spent the next 25 years in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Among his awards were the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 14 oak leaf clusters.

After the war, Mr. Foley planned a career in design. He graduated from the New York Phoenix School of Design in 1952. While in school, however, he worked for the Port Authority as an operations supervisor at Newark Airport. He worked his way up quickly to become assistant manager of LaGuardia Airport and later, manager of Kennedy Airport. After retiring from the Port Authority, he worked for seven years for the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization, helping airports in the Middle East and Africa meet international standards. He spent the last three years of his aviation career with the Swedish Aviation Group, where he was responsible for introducing Cold War inventions, such as microwave instrument landing systems, to commercial aviation.

He was born on May 25, 1921, on Staten Island to Arthur Foley and the former Sarah Price Solomon. His family owned a riding academy, and Mr. Foley exercised horses after school and on weekends. With his first wife, the former Grace Chemnitz, who died in 1985, Mr. Foley had been invited to visit Montauk in the 1970s by Dr. Leon Star of Startop Ranch, with whom he owned racehorses. The couple became Montauk weekenders, then settled year-round on Signal Hill there in 1976. His love of horses drew him to open Flying Horse Ranch, which offered lessons and trail rides.

In 1991, Mr. Foley and the former Regina Nichols of Springs were married. Mr. Foley was by that time an enthusiast of the Honda Goldwings motorcycle. The couple  courted by motorcycling up and down the Eastern Seaboard. His wife said that following a serious accident, he retired to a convertible.

Mr. Foley, an East Hampton Town Republican committeeman, frequently wrote pointed but succinct letters to The Star. He was an advocate of the incorporation of Montauk as a village of its own and of East Hampton Airport, which he claimed others wanted to close. He wrote letters critical of East Hampton Star editorials and in support of national Republican leaders.

Mr. Foley was a member of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Quiet Birdmen, and numerous other veterans and aviation organizations.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two stepdaughters, Donna Nichols and Karen McCaffrey of Springs, and two granddaughters.

A memorial service is planned for a later date.