By the time he was 12, Pete Bryce would pedal his bike from his home to the nearby small airport in Winnetka, Ill. He eagerly polished airplanes just so he could get a ride. His father, a chemical engineer, didn't show much interest in planes, but he encouraged his young son's interest. By the time he was 15, Bryce had earned his provisional license.
From his first infatuation with flying until his death of a heart attack May 16 at age 77 in Woodstock, Va., Bryce never wavered in his affection for airplanes and soaring through the smooth morning air on a beautiful day. He shared his passion with his son, Tom Brice, whom he strapped into a Mooney Mite for his first visit to the doctor and to whom he gave a Luscomb plane when he was 12.
Like his father, Brice received his license by 15. Today, he flies corporate jets.
Peter Bryce, entrepreneur, former Navy aviator, developer of Bryce Resort in Virginia and cat lover, manifested a larger-than-life personality. "He would always exaggerate -- in a good way," his son said. He had a way of getting people involved in what he wanted, sometimes pushing them to the point of annoyance. He told it like it was and didn't pull punches; you either loved him or hated him. But no one failed to notice his passion for aviation.
"He was different in the air," said Brice. "I would see a different side of my dad that the others never saw. He felt more comfortable in an airplane than in a car."
Born Paul Benedict Brice in Chicago, he later changed his last name to Bryce -- "It's sexier with the 'y,' don't you think?" he would say. He was widely known in Bayse, where he lived, and everywhere he traveled and did business as Pete Bryce.
His grandfather started Bryce Hillside Cottages in Bayse as a family summer retreat in 1909. Bryce visited as a boy, and in 1964, he came back to develop the area, in western Shenandoah County, into a year-round resort for skiing, golf and other outdoor recreation. Bryce Resort became one of the first ski resorts in the South with a chairlift and equipment for making artificial snow. It is also well-known for grass skiing.
"He had all these good ideas," recalled Manfred Locher, who with his brother Horst was hired by Bryce in 1965 as a ski instructor. "He was able to find people with money to execute these things that he was trying to do. His ideas and his vision made it work."
He combined his love for flying with helping to develop the resort even after he sold his controlling interest in 1970 to Joseph Luter III, heir to Smithfield Packing Co. He would fly prospective clients over the mountain property in Princess Anne, his 202 Harvard formerly owned by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He also used the plane for air shows.
Locher, who retired as general manager of the member-owned resort in 1999, recently traveled with Luter and Bryce to Argentina. "It's amazing how many people Pete knew, especially in the aviation community," he said. "He was an excellent pilot. That was the highlight of his life."
Bryce, who logged 17,000 hours as a private pilot, introduced a lot of people to aviation, Brice said. He enjoyed showing children his plane and taking them for rides, sometimes letting them take the controls. "He would try to fly every day the weather was nice."
Julie Bryce remembered that her husband used to entice his three daughters, Lee, Mary and Ellen, to fly with him, saying, "Come on, girls, and fly with me. I'll take you to lunch." Usually, they ended up at a Podunk airport hangar, and lunch came from a vending machine. The girls never took to flying as did their younger brother, who, like his dad, loved being in the air.
Brice, also an award-winning skier who liked living on the edge, understood his father's obsession with discovering where Amelia Earhart crashed her Lockheed Electra in the Pacific. Brice said his father spent months researching, then went to the Marshall Islands to try to figure out what had happened to the celebrated flier.
As serious as he was in that pursuit, Bryce also was interested in having fun with his flying. He would perform aerobatics and enjoyed buzzing houses.
"He would wake me up at 6 a.m., and he said, 'Tom, the best time to fly is when the air is smooth,' " Brice recalled. "And then we would fly off in formation, waking up the whole community."
Pete Bryce built a resort, small airports and airport hangars and helped build a mission chapel in Bayse. He also built a family -- and built into his son a love for all things that fly.