Guy Edwin Dixon, a former Eastern Airlines pilot and founder of Panelfold Inc., titled his 154-page memoir, What a Life! in 2000.
Indeed, Dixon, who died March 6 at age 93 at his home in Miami Lakes, had a storied life.
Born in Hendersonville. NC, Dixon rebuilt the first Taylor E-2 Cub airplane he ever flew and soloed shortly after his 16th birthday.
The idea came about five years earlier while he watched some pals on his block build what they called a skating glider. Basically, this contraption was a forerunner of the hang glider. The idea was to skate down a hill, jump into the air and, well, soar for a few feet.
But the teens found that a bit too tame and decided to hitch the glider to a motorcycle to generate lift.
“They got along pretty good until they got into a severe cross wind and the glider was in the air and it drifted to the side of the street and hit a telephone pole and that was the end of the glider,” Dixon wrote in his autobiography. “They didn’t get hurt and neither did I. I was just watching from the sidelines.”
That would be about the only time Dixon watched from the sidelines.
“I became the youngest flight instructor in the Air Corps,” he wrote. “I was only 19; but nobody had bothered to ask me how old I was. So we went merrily along.”
Age was never an impediment. Dixon’s son, Guy Dixon III, now 68 and the president/CEO of his father’s company, Panelfold, which makes folding doors, accordion partitions and operable walls, wrote an essay many years ago, some time around high school, about what his father meant to him.
“When my father was a lad, aviation was still a pretty new thing. For most people in the country, the airplane was just something they had heard about during World War I — or may have seen with some daredevil barnstormers over a nearby cow pasture. And to the folks in the hills of western North Carolina, well, aviation was pretty remote. But Dad got interested in flying.”
Dixon would join Eastern Airlines in 1941, the same year he married his wife Adagene with whom he would raise two children, Beth Dixon Geyer and Guy III. The couple remained married until her death in March 2011.
By 1942 the couple moved to Miami and Dixon flew under contract for the Army Air Corps Military Transport Division to South America and Africa during World War II. “Our flights normally left Miami at night about nine o’ clock. Here again, this was a new type of flying for me. We were flying long, over water flights or over jungle areas, which weren’t even properly mapped, without any navigational aids,” he wrote.
Flying like this, about 100 hours per month, gave Dixon time for family and, as they grew, the Dixons moved from Miami Beach, to Coral Gables, then South Miami and Miami Shores.
The idea for Panelfold originated at the Miami Shores home. A closet on the west side of the house used ordinary swinging doors. Now, swinging doors might be OK as the title of a classic Merle Haggard weeper, but when left open they became a safety hazard, Dixon decided.
So Dixon began designing folding doors made of wood that would stay within jambs and fold back upon themselves and not be an obstacle when left open. His first commercial installation was in Key Largo and Panelfold was incorporated in 1953.
All the while, Dixon was flying as a captain for Eastern and he would remain with the airline for 25 years. A heart scare, clogged arteries, eventually grounded him in the mid 1960s.
“I had 21,624 flight hours without injury to passengers or equipment and my pay was approximately $40,000 flying the 727. My Panelfold salary was just a token $2,500. We had a mortgage to pay,” he wrote.
Dixon talked it over with his wife. The company would become their professional focus. “We were off on another adventure. We had to make Panelfold a success.”
In 1971, Panelfold received the U.S. President’s E-Award, given to individuals or organizations that contribute significantly to increase United States exports. In May 1986, Panelfold won the E-Star Award for excellence in international exporting. Dixon was invited to the White House to receive the award on the Rose Garden by President Ronald Reagan. “This was a high honor … President Reagan was warm and pleasant and friendly,” Dixon wrote.
The couple would soon enjoy retirement at an oceanfront home at the Ocean Reef Club in the Florida Keys. Dixon completed 50 years as chairman of Panelfold in 2003.
“It is important for a boy to be able to look up to his dad with respect and admiration,” Guy III wrote in that long-ago essay when he was a teen. His feelings haven’t changed.
“It means a lot to be able to point with pride to your father and say, ‘There’s the kind of man I hope to be some day.’… I owe a far greater debt to him for the guidance, the character, and the moral values to which he has exposed me.”
Dixon is survived by his two children, five grandchildren, three great grandchildren, his brothers Tom and Frank Dixon and sister Becky Dixon Friedman. Private services will be held.