A very sad story in today's news. Two Dead of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. I was channel surfing the evening, keeping an eye on the weather, and I happened to catch this story on the local news.
Turns out I know the victims - Mike Bollea, a local balloonist, and his mother, Maria. The media is finally releasing the names, Hartford Courant story here.
I just saw Mike last night - he was at our balloon club safety seminar. He procures and funds a custom sheet cake with balloon decor (and often a frosting photo) made for these events - 2 or 3 times a year. As I chomped on the cake (yummy, with way too much sweet frosting), I chatted with him, teasing a little - what it would take to get a cake for our annual Gemini party? My buddy Robert chimed in "be careful what you wish for". M was likely to bring a few albums full of photos of his last flights, and would happily supply great detail you about each photo. He was quite the talker, and quite the character! Later yesterday, as he detailed how he had photoshopped his balloon and one other into the cover photo for our annual calendar, I teased him again. "Be honest, were there actually any balloons in that photo to start with?"
Yesterday he was detailing his annual expenditures - thousands of dollars in printer ink, photo paper, albums, sheet protectors. He was the de facto photographer of record of the CT Lighter than Air Society - if you wanted a photo of the balloon you were flying back in 1994, he could go back in the archives and pull it out. Last year, for the banquet, I put together a slide show for cocktail hour, and M sent several hundred pictures. This year, mostly aimed at him lest he overwhelm my In Box, I limited it to 30 photos per person. He sent his photos - and made sure I know he had plenty more if I needed them....
Mike never married - he lived with his mother, retired a while back from Wiremold in West Hartford. He was a kindly soul, would never hurt a flea and was always willing to step up for someone else. He was one of those balloonists who was often on the field without his balloon - helping out a friend by driving the chase van, flying for fun, or happy to take some pictures of a new balloon - he just loved the sport and the people. It's heartbreaking to know that he was just here - and is gone so quickly and unexpectedly. But as my friend Robert noted, it was also odd in a way. He and his mom were inseperable, and if she had passed away he would surely have been a lost soul, as would she if he had gone first. So doubly sad that they died together, but also a very small blessing at the heart of this great loss.
I'm quite sure he had a good day yesterday, surrounded by friends, talking about balloons, doing what he always did - take photos of the event, show off pictures of his most recent flight, talk about ballooning and plan the upcoming balloon season. I got an email from him a few days back - he flew on Wed 2/25. As usual there were 30-40 photos - documenting the entire flight - inflation, scenery, people, breakfast afterwards. I'll share a couple of photos from that email:
Right: Mike (left, with knit cap) in his balloon
Right: Mike's beloved balloon Checked-mate
Rest in Peace, Mike. Balloonists throughout the region will miss your friendly face, your passion for photography and ballooning, and I am sure as 2009 comes through, not a balloon weekend or event will roll by without something going undone, and we realize "Ah....Mike used to take care of that....". There will be an empty space on the field, and an empty chair at every post-flight breakfast, from here on.
Time for a little cry....