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Tangier Holly Run turns 50

Annual Chesapeake aviation tradition hits a half century

General aviation pilots gathered in the small fishing village on the mostly treeless Tangier Island, Virginia, in the lower Chesapeake Bay where aviators have been delivering holiday greens annually for the past 50 years.

Tangier Island Holly Run

  • Tangier Island Holly Run
    Some of Tangier's children greet Santa at the island's airport. Photo courtesy of
  • Tangier Island Holly Run
    One of the many Tangier felines, this one named Marmalade by AOPA pilots, greets arrivals in front of Lorraine's, one of the island restaurants. Photo courtesy of Joe Kildea.
  • Tangier Island Holly Run
    A view of Tangier Island from the air. Photo courtesy of
  • Tangier Island Holly Run
    Pilots dine on crab cakes and flounder at Lorraine's. Photo courtesy of
  • Tangier Island Holly Run
    Holly en route to Tangier Island. Photo courtesy of Richard McSpadden.

The Tangier Island Holly Run started with Ed Nabb, who delivered holly to the island in his Ercoupe, and it continues today. Although Ed Nabb has since died, his son, Ed Nabb Jr., continues to be involved in the event, which is now spearheaded by Helen Woods of Chesapeake Sport Pilot.

Santa, who flew a red, white, and blue Van's RV-7A, stands with Ed Nabb Jr. in a hangar at Bay Bridge Airport prior to departing for Tangier Island. Nabb, whose father founded the Holly Run, has aggressive taste in Christmas sweaters. Photo courtesy of Joe Kildea.

“Helen has grown this tremendously,” said Nabb.

The event was also supported by Van’s Aircraft, which provided breakfast, and AutoGyro USA, which provided hangar space at Bay Bridge Airport.

In addition to providing holiday greens to the island, Woods has expanded the Holly Run to include more opportunities for pilots to help some less fortunate Tangier residents.

Woods said, “Chesapeake Sport Pilot is thrilled to be the host and primary sponsor of the fiftieth anniversary Tangier Holly Run. There is no better way to celebrate Christmas than with [the] pilot community and people of Tangier Island.”

Woods estimates that about 30 aircraft and 80 people took part in the 2018 Holly Run.

Prior to departing for Tangier Island Airport, pilots met at Bay Bridge Airport in Maryland for breakfast, a safety briefing, and to load their aircraft with holly and donated supplies for the local school and elderly island residents. The group also raised more than $12,000, which will be put toward repairing many of the island homes.

For the past five years, Michael Marra, a professor at the U.S. Army War College and U.S. Air Force veteran, has been coming to Tangier annually with a group of volunteers to repair island resident homes.

Marra, who flies a Cessna 150M, said, “In addition to doing roofing work, we also do decking, electrical, carpentry, flooring, bathrooms, painting, caulking, and repairing windows. While the construction is going on, we also have a visitation team that goes around and spends time with all the shut-ins on the island and provides them a large gift bag of personalized items.”

Pat Marra, second from right, attends a church service for pilots participating in the Holly Run. Marra has been traveling to Tangier and volunteering his time for the past five years. Photo courtesy of

The more than $12,000 raised in the Holly Run will support Marra’s work.

“We will do all we can to help, and general aviation is the enabler that allows us to be more successful,” continued Marra.

AOPA Air Safety Institute Executive Director Richard McSpadden participated in the Holly Run for the second consecutive year and said, “Tangier Island would be a much different place if it didn’t have a runway, and the Holly Run is a great way for pilots to explore a new and fascinating place while giving back.”

Once the group arrived at Tangier, McSpadden and many others dined on crab cakes and flounder at Lorraine’s. Others attended a church service and visited the island’s museum. 

The Holly Run had been planned for the previous week but was rescheduled to Dec. 8 because of weather.

Joe Kildea

Joe Kildea

AOPA Senior Director of Communications
Joe is a student pilot and his first solo flight was at AOPA’s home airport in Frederick, Maryland. Before joining AOPA in 2015, he worked for numerous political campaigns, news organizations, and the White House Press Office.
Topics: Public Benefit Flying, People

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