Wednesday, October 5, 2011

September 16, 2011 – The Saddest Day

Contributed by Marilyn Dash

By now most of you have heard of our tragedy at the Reno Air Races on September 16th. I have still not come to a point where I can talk about what I saw and what I experienced. But, I wanted to tell you a story.

They say that Extraordinary People do Extraordinary Things. And I will say that every single one of the pilots and crew at the Reno Air Races are Extraordinary People. They breathe a little deeper, love a little harder, stand closer to the edge. We know there are dangers in doing what we do – but we never imagined our activities would hurt anyone else. Losing one of our own is a tragedy. Losing people who were only there to cheer us on is a catastrophe. Sometimes, these Extraordinary Things go extraordinarily wrong.

My thoughts and prayers are with those who were affected by this event. To the fans we lost, to their families and to the Reno and Air Racing Communities. We shall lean on each other to heal.

Let me tell you about Jimmy Leeward.

Jimmy learned to fly at a young age. He was a second generation pilot and proceeded to raise two more generations of aviators. They were a flying family, living in their own dream community – Leeward Air Ranch in Ocala, FL. The biggest thing for a new pilot was to have their first solo at the Ranch.


Jimmy was also a movie stunt pilot, actor and aviation consultant. He was involved with no less than 8 movies including Amelia, Tuskegee Airmen and Cloud Dancer. He had thousands of hours in hundreds of aircraft. He was a gifted professional.

The first time I met Jimmy we talked about Cloud Dancer and his role in the movie. He was gracious and kind and didn’t mind answering stupid questions from a newbie. Our friendship continued over the years. He always had time for his friends and his fans. If you stopped him for a picture (he never shied away from a camera) he had to shake your hand and chat with you for a minute. If you stopped him for an autograph, he made time for you. I have tried to model my public life after Jimmy and professionals like him.


He was a showman who loved the sport, loved to fly and loved the people around him. He loved his family – especially his wife, Bette – they always acted like teenagers in love together. My life is better for having known him and I will always remember his warmth and kindness.

Blue skies and tailwinds forever…

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