John R. Frizzell, 86; 'the Flying Father'

John R. Frizzell Jr., an Episcopal priest and a barnstorming biplane enthusiast, served St. Alban's church in Annandale.
John R. Frizzell Jr., an Episcopal priest and a barnstorming biplane enthusiast, served St. Alban's church in Annandale. (The Washington Post)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 25, 2006

John R. Frizzell Jr., 86, an ordained Episcopal priest who became executive officer of the Washington diocese and a barnstorming biplane enthusiast often called "the Flying Father," died Dec. 12 at Goodwin House retirement home in Alexandria after a stroke.

Starting in 1958, Canon Frizzell spent 28 years as rector of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Annandale. He was on the Virginia Diocese executive board, helped create low-income housing, and was president of a home for young people with drug-related problems.

In 1975, he quit the diocese's standing committee to protest the committee's refusal to recognize the ordination of women as priests. "The issue is the same issue we have been involved in for a long time," he said. "Did God make inferior persons? . . . The Gospel says no, He didn't."

Before retiring in 1992, he was executive officer of the Washington Diocese, a top administrator to the bishop.

John Reeves Frizzell Jr. was born in New York and raised in South Norwalk, Conn., and Charlottesville. He graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria and attended the University of Virginia before serving as an Army Air Forces radioman in the South Atlantic during World War II.

After the war, he worked at his father's dress manufacturing business in Charlottesville. One day, at choir practice during Lent, he was struck by a Biblical passage about serving God "not only with our lips but in our lives," he told The Washington Post. He went on to graduate from Virginia Theological Seminary in the early 1950s and was ordained a priest.

Canon Frizzell had an interest in flight since going on a barnstorming ride at a Charlottesville country fair when he was 11. He earned his pilot's license and in 1970 helped organize a barnstorming air show, now called the Flying Circus Aerodrome & Airshow, in Bealton, Va., south of Warrenton, featuring dogfights, wing-walking and other stunts from the early days of aviation.

Canon Frizzell appeared for years in his vintage British-made biplane wearing the standard regalia of white scarf, flying goggles, leather helmet and jodhpurs.

"A lot of people ask if I think about God up there," he once told The Post, "but you better believe I'm thinking about the plane!"

Survivors include his wife, Sarah Buford Frizzell, whom he married in 1943, of Alexandria; three children, Sarah Williams of Corvallis, Ore., Hazel Cross of Arnold and John Frizzell III of Greensboro, N.C.; a brother, H. Lockwood Frizzell of Charlottesville; and five grandchildren.

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