I took Ann for her first ever airplane ride on May 30, 1956, in my Piper Pacer. I had been flying for five years then. A couple of years later we got married and she had really signed on. I took her for her final airplane ride on August 19, 2007. By that time she was pretty much an invalid and mounting and dismounting my P210 was just too much of a struggle. By then, I had been flying for 56 years.
We flew together all of over the country. In the early years our kids, Charlotte, Sarah and Richard were always with us. I think I remember that all three flew with us before they were a month old. We flew to weddings and funerals and family events and my logbook is a diary of sorts because we inevitably flew when there was a life happening and I made note of what it was.
We were truly a flying family, taking trips on our own and with other flying families like the Bedells. Rowland and Julie have four kids, Catherine, Bill, Rob and Pete, and we looked like a bunch of Okies when we showed up in two airplanes carrying four adults and seven kids and wanted to borrow the airport car. Rowland and I had served together in the Cub Scouts in WW-II and were lifelong friends until he died too young, in 1990. You probably know Pete Bedell from his work in AOPA PILOT.
Tireless in support of my efforts, Ann typed manuscripts for books and articles, did a perfect job of entertaining and made thousands of bologna sandwiches for meal service to FLYING staffers as we flew around the country. Bryan Comstock, who worked at FLYING for a while, once told her that even a bologna sandwich tasted good at eighteen thousand feet.
Most of all, though, Ann was my everything. I just played that song on my iPod and the memories flooded my mind as I listened. In the 55 wonderful years that we were married she was perfect. Well, nearly, and more so than I.
I thought back to a trip in our Pacer, when we were moving to New York from Arkansas and were going to visit in Alabama along the way. Mother Nature was on a rare widespread July rampage over our proposed Little Rock to Dothan route. There were thunderstorms all over the place.
At one point, I decided we needed gas. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, looked like the best place and the specialist at the FAA station there said it was pretty good at the airport and looked pretty good in the direction from which we would be coming. It didn’t look so good from the other direction.
A Piper Pacer isn’t the best airplane in the world for serious weather challenges and ours was being tossed around by the turbulence. There was a lot of lightning and it was raining. In the thick of battle, Ann asked “Are you afraid?” I told her I wasn’t and she said, “Well I won’t be afraid either.”
One of the last things she said to me while squeezing my hand before she died on March 26 was “I am not afraid.” We flew through every imaginable kind of weather over the years and after all those thousands of hours, I guess she had reached the point where she wasn’t afraid of anything.
After a turbulent trip I would always tell her I was sorry about the bad ride. Her reply was always “It wasn’t that bad.” She never complained about slow trips or changed plans. And in probably at least 5,000 hours of flying together, only twice did she request that I land, now. I took her seriously both times and made unscheduled stops at Gainesville, Florida and Morgantown, West Virginia. Both times were but 30 or 40 minutes from our destination but I knew she needed to land.
I could regale you with many more tales of her determination to be a good copilot and courageous flying companion but I will stop there.
Ann, I loved you and always will, more than anything else in the world.
Ann Slocomb Collins, Gone West on 3/26/2013, the saddest day of my life.