by Mark Baker
AOPA President & CEO
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2018/January 2019
I’ve been a pilot for more years than I’d care to count, and in that time I’ve been privileged to meet some of the most celebrated aviators of the Greatest Generation and beyond.
I’m talking about pilots such as John Glenn, the first man to orbit the Earth, and later a U.S. senator and the oldest person to go to space at age 77; Gene Cernan, the last human to walk on the moon; Bob Hoover, a fighter pilot, test pilot, record-setter, and airshow innovator; Carroll Shelby, a military pilot and flight instructor who became best known for his auto racing and Shelby Cobra car design; and even Arnold Palmer, a legendary golfer and lifelong pilot who famously said that learning to fly was the third best decision he ever made – after marrying his wife and learning to play golf.
All these men are gone now. But they were among my heroes, and they left me – and so many others whose lives they touched – with a lasting impression of something good, strong, and nearly magical. I call it grace.
These were gracious and graceful people, who were always happy to talk with a fellow aviator or enthusiast. They were amazingly generous and willing to give of their time, knowledge, and expertise. They went out of their way to show newcomers that they are welcome and wanted in the aviation community. They embraced everyone and anyone who shared their interest in flying. Every pilot was a kindred spirit. They didn’t boast about their own achievements, though they certainly had a right to do so. Instead, they listened and they shared.
I’m making a personal commitment to do more to emulate the grace of the great pilots I’ve known, to be generous in spirit and action, to reach out to those who want to fly, and to share what I’ve learned through a lifetime in aviation. I hope you’ll join me. In a world that gets a little less civil every day, living with grace could be the best legacy we can hope to leave for the aviators of tomorrow.