William Henry Ottley, 76, a pioneering figure in sport parachuting who played a key role in developing safety standards for skydiving as it gained in popularity in the 1980s, died Dec. 1 at Washington Community Hospice. He had pneumonia.
"Mr. Ottley wasn't the founder of the sport, nor did he win the most medals, but more than any person he was essential to the promotion of skydiving as a sport," said Christopher Needles, executive director of the Alexandria-based U.S. Parachute Association (USPA).
Among Mr. Ottley's greatest achievements was serving as skydiving's unofficial ambassador, heading many U.S. teams in international competitions and serving as a representative to commissions of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the world governing body of all airborne sports.
"He had a fascination with all air sports, but skydiving became his ultimate love," Needles said.
A licensed pilot and Air Force veteran, Mr. Ottley had served as USPA's executive director for 14 years until his retirement in 1992. In that position, he was responsible for the development of a free-fall training program that became the standard for instructors at jump schools across the country.
The number of commercial parachute centers that joined USPA tripled during his tenure, and individual memberships increased from 16,000 to 24,000.
Mr. Ottley was also credited with helping to turn around the association's financial troubles, which included $110,000 in debt as of 1978. Over the years, the USPA built its assets to $1.5 million. The organization's headquarters -- two buildings in Alexandria -- were named in Mr. Ottley's honor in 1992.
An expert skydiver, Mr. Ottley helped set world records while heading delegations to national and world championship competitions spanning two decades. He learned to skydive at an airport in Orange, Mass., in 1958 under the tutelage of Jacques Istel, known as the father of American skydiving.
Mr. Ottley, who had lived in the District since 1967, was born in New York. He graduated from Yale University in 1950 and served in the Korean War.
Returning to New York, he began a career in public relations and worked from 1960 to 1965 as a director of special exhibits for the New York World's Fair.
About that time, he learned to fly a Piper J-3 Cub plane. Soon after, he obtained licenses to fly sailplanes and hot air balloons.
He was executive director of the National Pilots Association in Washington from 1967 to 1978. There, he worked to create the international sport of precision flight competition by organizing sponsorships for flying teams.
His professional honors include the Federation Aeronautique Internationale Air Sport Medal and the Parachute Industry Man of the Year Award in 1984.
He leaves no immediate survivors.