CALGARY — “An officer and a gentleman.”
That’s how a Calgary father of two was remembered Sunday as family, friends and colleagues gathered to say goodbye to Jeff Bird — one of two Mount Royal University flight instructors killed last week when their plane crashed northwest of Calgary.
Speaking to a capacity crowd at Bella Concert Hall on the MRU campus, Bird’s former commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Chris Morrison, remembered the retired Royal Canadian Air Force captain as both a passionate pilot and devoted friend.
“I took tremendous pride in watching Jeff blossom into a first-rate pilot in our air force,” he said during the service.
Bird, 35, and fellow flight instructor Reynold Johnson were killed Feb. 13 when their twin-engine Tecnam trainer plane went down in a designated training area north of Cochrane.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation by Canada’s Transportation Safety Board.
Johnson’s memorial services are scheduled for Feb. 23 and 24 at St. Michael’s Catholic Community.
While Bird was born and raised in Calgary, he traces his roots to Peepeekisis First Nation northeast of Regina — one of several provinces he was posted in over his 10 years of service in the RCAF — and where he chose to retire last year as a flight instructor at CFB Moose Jaw.
Awarded his wings in 2009, Bird was posted to 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron when his unit was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2011.
“Jeff will be missed be all who knew him, and whose lives he touched,” Morrison said. “His legacy lives on through his children, those he served with in Afghanistan, and the next generation of young pilots he trained in the Air Force.”
Moving his family home to Calgary last year, Bird accepted a position as an instructor in Mount Royal University’s aviation program, where he continued to share his love of flying with budding pilots.
“Jeff had an innate ability,” Morrison told media after the service. “In the field of military aviation, you really need to want to do it — it is a very demanding program to earn your wings in the Canadian Forces.”
Showing incredible strength in the wake of her family’s loss, Bird’s wife Carly Barnett remembered her husband as a loving and devoted father who adored infant son Shane and daughter Celeste.
“Being a dad is what he was meant to do in this life,” she told attendees.
“Without any doubt, it was by far his most proud accomplishment.”
Few in the packed auditorium were left unmoved when little Celeste toddled onto the stage and presented her father’s urn with a blue plush stuffed dog — the Valentine’s gift she never got the opportunity to give him.
“In the wake of this loss, that had the potential to break me, I’m taking a page from Jeff’s book,” Barnett said.
“No amount of pain I could ever feel from the loss of my husband and best friend could ever negate the amount of joy and happiness that Jeff brought to my life.”