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Eileen Sheldon, former executive assistant at Gabreski Airport, dies at 97

Eileen Sheldon, who raised six children in Northampton,

Eileen Sheldon, who raised six children in Northampton, died at the age of 97 on July 17. Credit: Sheldon Family

Eileen Sheldon, a longtime Northampton resident, former executive assistant at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach and mother of six, died at her home in Sarasota, Florida, on July 17, according to her family. She was 97.

Born May 24, 1924, in Manhattan to parents John and Catherine Beebe, Sheldon lived a long, happy and full life, her children said.

Her list of amusing biographical anecdotes included being selected Miss TWA 1948 during her days as an airline hostess, landing a hole-in-one shot on a Sarasota golf course and allegedly making her way into the background of an iconic photo.

"My mother’s life is filled with all these fun little stories," said a son, Chris Sheldon of Northampton.

Sheldon was selected Miss TWA and picked to represent the airline in the Miss Missouri pageant, according to the family and an online archive of Skyliner, the airline’s weekly employee publication. The company was based in Kansas City, Missouri, at the time.

Then there was a time she said she peered into a window and got a wink from Frank Sinatra while Ol’ Blue Eyes was prepping for his first solo performance at the Paramount Theater in 1942, Chris Sheldon said.

And she was in Times Square on V-J Day when Japan surrendered to the Allies, officially ending World War II. She claims she can be seen in one of the famous photos taken by Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt of a sailor kissing a nurse.

She married Leonard Sheldon in 1949 and settled near Wildwood Lake in the Northampton section of Southampton Town, where the couple raised their six children. He died in 1997.

Sheldon was passionate about theater and starred in more than two dozen musicals with the Mattituck-based North Fork Community Theatre company. One of her favorite roles was playing Mother Abbess in a 1980s production of "The Sound of Music" when her performance of "Climb Every Mountain" drew a thunderous applause, her family said.

"Her voice, my God," said daughter Constance Conway of Northampton. "Her music teacher told her that she had the best voice on the East End."

She spent 31 years as the executive assistant to the manager of Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, where her dedication to the facility led to the renaming of an airport road as Sheldon Way.

Conway, a former News 12 reporter, recalled being on the scene to cover the 1995 Sunrise Fire that burned 4,500 acres in the pine barrens. Conway called her mother from a crew cellphone and learned she was hunkered down in her office. She wouldn’t leave until she was evacuated.

"We grew up calling it mom’s airport because we thought she ran the place, and in many ways she did," said Conway, who is the executive director of Southampton Town’s public access television station. "She was very dedicated and committed."

Sheldon is survived by her six children, who include Robert Sheldon of Sarasota, Florida; Gregory and daughter-in-law Leslie of Groton, Massachusetts; daughter Kathleen and son-in-law Dan Stallmer of Albany; and son Gary of Westhampton. She is also survived by five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was held Saturday at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead. She was buried at Calverton National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations in her name be made to Tidewell Hospice Foundation (Tidewell.org).

An earlier version of this story misstated the date of Sheldon’s death.

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