Anyone who's been involved in GA or flight instruction at Hayward or Oakland, California has undoubtedly met or heard of Mal Raff. Mal passed away last week at his home, a mere three months after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
I didn't know Mal well, yet I considered him a friend. When I lost my medical in 2008, Mal was both sanguine and supportive. He recognized the fragile nature of aviation and human health. To him the most important thing seemed to be teaching and he encouraged me to continue sharing my knowledge in whatever capacity I could while I waited for my medical issue to be resolved.
Mal was an accomplished fixed-wing pilot and flight instructor, but he was also a helicopter pilot. Though he flew them infrequently, he once confided to me that he enjoyed the particular challenge of doing his flight review in a helicopter.
Mal was famous for holding strong opinions on many topics, especially those that involved aviation. In spite of his strongly held beliefs and opinions, I knew Mal to be a person who would listen, and I mean actually listen to people who held a position different from his own. He may not have agreed with you after hearing you out, but I didn't know him to be a person who would reject other people's ideas out of hand. In current American culture where everyone seems obligated to annihilate those who disagree with us, Mal was a gentleman.
Mal was straightforward and up-front, almost to the point of being ingenuous. In a society marked by double-speak, duplicity, and self-interest, Mal was unique because what you saw was mostly who he was. I say mostly because he once revealed to me that his original training was in astrophysics.
I did two aircraft check-outs with Mal and enjoyed flying with him because, like all true instructors, he loved to fly and it showed. Pilots who where thoughtful, who were trying to do their best, who weren't full of false bravado, who wanted to learn, those pilots were likely to get a fair shake from Mal. The others? Well let's just say he didn't suffer fools gladly.
I imagine that Mal has returned to the stars in the heavens that so fascinated him. Godspeed my friend.