Harold Elphingstone could be outside on the porch or messing around in the yard when he'd hear the sound of a bird. He'd turn quiet, listen for a bit, then name the feathered vertebrate.
"He'd say, 'That's a redheaded woodpecker,' or name some other bird," said Helen B. Elphingstone, his wife of 65 years. "Bird-watching was something he took up in the Boy Scouts, and he stayed with it. He could identify birds by song and plumage and so forth, and he'd watch for them in the spring and fall when they were traveling north or south."
Bird-watching and playing golf were two hobbies Mr. Elphingstone pursued when he retired as a Delta pilot in 1978. He wasn't ready to step down from the cockpit; a Delta Air Lines policy required pilots to retire at 60, his wife said.
"He would liked to have stayed on another five or 10 years," she said, "but that was the rule. A lot of airlines had that same policy back then. He always said he was glad to have a job that was fun. He got to go places all over the country."
Harold Ryan "Cotton" Elphingstone, 90, of East Point died Thursday from complications of diabetes and kidney failure at South Fulton Medical Center. The funeral will be 2 p.m. Monday at Carmichael-Hemperley Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements.
A native of Memphis, Mr. Elphingstone was nicknamed "Cotton" because his hair had the distinct color of the fiber. He briefly attended Memphis State University, now known as the University of Memphis, before his military draft number was called.
"His draft number was No. 158," his wife said. "He left college after two years and went into the U.S. Army Air Corps. He got into flying because that's what he liked so much. He delivered airplanes to the battlefields during World War II."
After six years in the service, Mr. Elphingstone was honorably discharged with the rank of captain. He still wanted to fly, so in 1947 he applied to Delta Air Lines. He worked for the company for 31 years before he retired in the late 1970s. For him, the longer the flight, the better, his wife said.
"He liked the West Coast trips most of all, places like San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco," she said. "He could get his time in, then have two or three days off."
For Mr. Elphingstone, the thought of retirement wasn't easy, said his son Bill F. Elphingstone of Calhoun. "[Flying] was his profession, his occupation, and he was very exact about it," he said. "It's hard to give up something you enjoy."
Mr. Elphingstone, an Eagle Scout, collected stamps. He also was an avid golfer who had belonged to Atlanta's Lakeside Country Club and, more recently, Eagle's Landing in Stockbridge. In 1994, the then-76-year-old shot under his age 10 times at Eagle's Landing, according to a story that appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Other survivors include two additional sons, Robert R. Elphingstone of Stockbridge and Charles P. Elphingstone of McDonough; a daughter, Carol E. Sheehan of Newnan; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
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