|Photo courtesy of Hamish Reid|
Lou was already in his 80s when I met him, but he seemed younger. His flight school fleet was gone, but he had two remaining aircraft: A Pitts S2A and a 1969 Piper Arrow. When Lou needed to do his flight checks with the FAA, he confided they often used the Pitts so they could have a bit of fun in the process.
If you had a check ride with Lou, you know he conducted business in a mobile home-office trailer, in a far-flung area of the North Field known as the Old Tees. Many a candidate sat in that trailer, sweating nervously as Lou probed their knowledge. I know because I did my instrument rating, commercial, and instrument instructor practical tests with Lou. He was a thorough examiner, but he was fair. There was no doubt that he loved general aviation and he did his part to keep the dream of flying alive and well for many a pilot
Lou was an instructor's instructor, but he was never interested in being Master Flight Instructor, Flight Instructor of the Year, or any of that. At one point I mentioned I'd passed enough candidates to be eligible for a gold seal designation on the first renewal of my instructor certificate. "Who the hell cares about that stuff, John?" he said. "You're a conscientious and competent instructor, end of story."
When he was in his 50s, Lou ran marathons faster than I could when I was in my mid-20s. As he aged, he always seemed more vital that his contemporaries. Several years ago, Lou discovered he had a health problem and that he'd have to undergo a procedure in the hospital. He called me into his office and explained the situation, then produced a hand-written living will that detailed what should be done if things went bad. He wanted me to witness and sign the document. I watched as he signed and as I picked up the pen to add my signature, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
|Photo of Lou with the "Thunder Chicken," courtesy of Hamish Reid|
Lou made it through, but he knew he'd no longer be eligible for a medical certificate. He sold the Pitts but kept the Arrow since it was being flown by several renters and instructors, including myself. He acquired an Aeronca Champ that he flew under sport pilot privileges and became one of the country's first sport pilot examiners. A few years later, Lou sold the Arrow and the activity around his office began to slow a bit. His office became more disheveled with each passing year and Lou slowed down a bit, but he kept showing up. He kept going. He kept flying.
As he aged, Lou naturally became convinced of the sanctity of all life. He once confronted the USDA folks who where shooting birds at the airport as part of a bird-strike prevention program. He confided to me that he had faced death so many times, but only recently had he understood that all life was sacred. He even protected the ants that inhabited his hangar. I recently told him that he'd become a Buddhist. "But I don't believe in god" was his response. "Neither do Buddhists" I replied. I thought about giving him a book on Buddhism, but Lou didn't need it: His own satori was more meaningful than any book I could have offered.
Last year, Lou came down with a bad cold that he couldn't shake. It turned into pneumonia and he ended up in the hospital. Our paths hadn't crossed much, but as soon as I heard he was ill I made time to visit him. Sitting in a hospital bed, wearing an oxygen cannula, he looked weak. But he was in good spirits and was as clear-headed as always. And he kept moving the conversation away from himself, asking about what I was up to. I offered him whatever assistance he might need once he got out, but he refused in that gentlemanly fashion he was known for. A few days later, he was released and sent home. They'd given him all the treatment available, so he went home to either recuperate ... or not.
Recuperate he did, though he remained weak. I made a point of stopping by once a week to chat with him and hit the tennis ball for his rescued pit bull, Champ. I chatted with Lou on the phone right after Christmas and he seemed in good spirits. And so it came as a shock to learn that Lou passed away early this morning. It's hard to put into words what Lou meant to me, to his students, and to all the friends who knew him. To me he was a role model, mentor, and an open-hearted friend.
If you knew Lou and have a story to share, please do. I like to think that Lou would have wanted it that way.