Noteworthy Alumni in the Field of Business and Aviation – Burt Avedon ’41

A successful pilot, veteran, big game hunter, businessman, Formula One race car driver and author – Burt Avedon ’41 led a life full of duty, excitement and adventure.

At Missouri Military Academy, Avedon found his initial passion as a pilot by clocking over 600 hours of flight time by the age of 16. After graduation, he joined a group of American mercenaries known as the Claire Chennault’s American Volunteer Group (“Flying Tigers”) who defended China against Japanese attacks prior to and during World War II.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Avedon returned to the U.S., enrolled at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) and joined the university's Naval Reserve Officers Training program. Commissioned as an ensign in 1944, he flew with the carrier-based Flight Group VF-6 in the South Pacific for two years. He then returned to UCLA to complete his bachelor’s degree before attending Harvard Business School and attaining his master’s degree in 1950.

After graduating from Harvard, Avedon returned to active duty in the Navy, flying a fighter jet for over 300 missions in the Korean War.

Following his service in the Korean War, Avedon opted for a post-war break, traveling to Kenya to hunt plains game as a professional hunter and bush pilot in British East Africa for two years.

When he returned to the U.S., he became a test pilot at the National Test Pilot School at Pawtucket River, Maryland for 10 years, testing laser guidance systems, conducting altitude research and flying prototype fighter jets.

In 1964, he was appointed chief of staff for air training for NATO in the U.K., Belgium and Italy. He later joined the Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program at the Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, where he participated in developing the original Navy Strike Fighters Tactics syllabus. After nearly 30 years of service, Avedon retired from the Navy as a commander.

Entering the next exciting phase of his life, Avedon moved to Italy and worked for several clothing companies before being appointed president of Eve of Roma, a high-value cosmetics firm. While living in Italy, he married Princess Luciana Pinnately, raced Formula One cars and managed a Ferrari racing team.

In 1978, he was contacted by the founder of the Palm Beach Collections and asked to lead the acquisition of Willis & Geiger, an expeditionary-themed clothing company. With his military and safari background, as well as his Harvard business education, Avedon introduced and improved new versions of many of the iconic Willis & Geiger styles, bringing the company out of bankruptcy. He then guided the company through a series of owners until it was eventually sold to Land’s End and transformed into a direct-mail catalog company.

Avedon then went on to co-found his own apparel business with designer Susan Colby, which they named Avedon & Colby Group, Inc. They designed and sold premium lifestyle garments that combined quality active wear, wilderness exploration style and high-performance features never before seen by outdoor enthusiasts. His designs were taken on by high-profile clients like Woolrich, J. Peterman, Orvis, Duluth Trading, Beretta, and Eddie Bauer.

At 92 years old, Avedon published Dead Eye Trilogy, an action-adventure novel with fictionalized versions of his own adventures.

Avedon passed away in May 2018. MMA is proud to count him among our noteworthy alumni.

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