Kelly Gottlieb loves to fly her Cessna and has taken her grandson on an airplane tour of the western states. Photo by Michael Gottlieb
Kelly Gottlieb of Manalapan caught the flying bug early in life. At 17, her mother put her and a pal on a puddle-jumper from a small airport in New Jersey to Idlewild Airport (now JFK International) in New York. It was the first leg of a graduation trip to Havana.
“I sat in the front seat with the pilot. He let me fly the plane across New York Harbor,” Gottlieb says.
“When I returned from the trip, I told my mother, ‘I know what I want to do when I graduate college. I’m going to be the first female airline pilot!’ My mother said, ‘Young ladies do not fly airplanes.’ ” It was 1958, and that was that.
Almost 20 years later, after she married and gave birth to two sons, Gottlieb’s dream resurfaced. With the support of her husband, Michael, a New York textile industry executive, she began flight lessons at the little airport near their home in Nyack, N.Y.
Halfway through her flying lessons, Gottlieb learned she was pregnant with her daughter. The flight school wouldn’t let her fly solo during the pregnancy, but she continued her written studies, hunkering down alongside her boys, then 7 and 10, to do homework.
Gottlieb eventually got her private pilot’s license, and went on to earn an instrument rating, a commercial rating, and even an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) rating — not that she ever planned to become a commercial airline pilot, but because “it was a challenge.”
Now 69, Gottlieb has been flying for 34 years. She has landed in every state in the U.S. except Hawaii and North Dakota. She keeps her Cessna 210 — a turbo-charged, pressurized, single-engine airplane — in a hangar at the Lantana airport.
A former Manalapan town commissioner, Gottlieb earned the distinction of becoming the town’s first female mayor last year. After losing her commission seat in the March election, she’s taking a break from local politics, at least for now.
For a number of years, Gottlieb has volunteered to take environmental scientists up in her plane for a bird’s eye view of migrating animals, endangered species, or the encroachment of humans on natural habitat. She also provides volunteer aerial transport for medical patients and supplies.
Her most recent adventure in the Cessna involved taking one of her grandsons for a whirlwind sightseeing tour in the western states. The boy’s teacher later called his parents to report a disturbing pattern of lying.
“He’s been talking about flying around in his grandmother’s airplane,” Gottlieb quotes the teacher as saying.
“Actually, there are a lot of flying grandmothers around these days,” she says.— Paula DetwillerQ.
Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you? A.
I grew up on the Jersey shore in Rumson. I graduated from Red Bank Catholic High School and Pine Manor Junior College in Massachusetts. I attended Reid Hall, a small, girls third-year-abroad program in Paris. While there I studied at the Ecole du Louvre.Q.
What professions have you worked at outside of public service? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?A.
I was employed by J.S. Inskip in New York. Inskip was the east coast distributor for Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, MG and Austin Healey. I was the secretary of the corporation and responsible for dealer/customer relations.Q.
What was your favorite part about being mayor of Manalapan? What were your major accomplishments while in office?A.
Creating the teamwork with the staff to manage the town after the unexpected dismissal of the previous town manager.Q.
Tell us about your volunteer work.A.
I volunteer as a pilot for Angel Flight Southeast, transporting patients to facilities that usually are too far away to drive. A typical flight from Lantana could take me to a destination such as Tampa or Gainesville.
Angel Flight arranges flights after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina I flew two missions to Gulfport, Mississippi, bringing in needed supplies.
I also volunteer to fly for LightHawk. LightHawk acts as a “clearinghouse” to arrange flights for environmental groups.
I have flown in the Bahamas on behalf of the Wildlife Conservation Society (the Bronx Zoo) to study flamingos, in Ocala for Defenders of Wildlife to study the impingement of all-terrain vehicles on the protected areas of the forest, and around the Gulf coast to study the migration patterns of fish, mainly sharks, for Mote Marine Labs.Q.
How did you choose to make your home in Manalapan?A
. My husband and I flew all around Florida, looking for the perfect place. While driving down A1A, we saw an ad for a home on Hypoluxo Island.
We knew nothing about the area, but went to the open house. The home had been sold that morning, but the broker took us to visit vacant property in Manalapan. We fell in love with the area and purchased the property that day! Eventually, we sold that property and purchased our home. Q.
What book are you reading now?A.
I am listening to Mudbound
, by Hillary Jordan. I do a lot of knitting and find it relaxing to listen to a book while I knit.Q.
If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?A.
Who or what makes you laugh?A.
My great joy is my six grandchildren. I get great big laughs at times and wonderful little chuckles when we are around them. Also, anything that Mel Brooks does.Q.
Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions? A.
My husband, Michael, has always supported me and allowed me to follow my dreams.Q.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?A.
“Cleared, direct to …”