By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor
In this great collection of pilots I call the aviation family are some of the finest humans found anywhere. We aviators are a rare breed, possessing a hard-coded generosity and willingness to help our fellow pilots at any time, for any reason, when they need help the most. These incredible pilots are the #avgeeks, and you will find them at any GA airport in the land, helping someone, giving back to the airport or the community, generally acting like we people should act.
We #avgeeks already know about the selfless attitude pilots display. I have yet to meet someone in this aviation family who will not loan you tools when asked, or help you get your airplane back flying when stuck AOG at their home field. There are, however, times when we come across someone that is the pure definition of this kind of pilot. It is awesome to learn of someone who exemplifies what it means to never forget we are all in this together, helping each other to pull in the same direction.
This week, international airline pilot and successful author Karlene Petitt (@KarlenePetitt on Twitter) did something that goes far beyond anyone's expectations to help someone when they need it the most. The person Karlene helped was not even a pilot, and was a complete stranger to her before this incredible encounter. This is what being a stand-up person looks like.
I already knew that Karlene Petitt was a class act, putting together a career on the flight deck and as a published author that is very impressive. But this week, she made every #avgeek and pilot in the aviation family look great. Let me set this one up:
Over the Thanksgiving break, Marysville, Washington mother Sharon McGregor and her boyfriend went shopping on Black Friday, and had loaded up her minivan with Christmas gifts for McGregor's four young boys. But between parking it for the night and unloading the gifts the next morning, thieves stole both the van and all the gifts, leaving McGregor without a car, car seats and without any chance of her boys having anything under the tree. A dire situation because as a single mother, McGregor – according to this KOMO TV4 news report – is facing some financial hardships right now and is on a budget, so she can't just buy a new car. She had car insurance but it doesn't cover theft.
Karlene saw the TV news report, and what she did next should warm any heart:
"Granted there have been horrendously hard times in my life, but I believe that it's not the things that happen to us that define us, but how we deal with what happens to us," Karlene said. "I looked at this young mother, with four small children, being a victim of a car theft, and wanted her to know that when something bad happens, good can come from it too. There is not just taking in this world, but giving. We're not alone in this life, but all connected in so many ways and when bad things happen it's easy to feel alone. A hand from a stranger is sometimes all the lift we need."
Elegant prose from a talented writer, no doubt, but they are words only. It's actions that count. So a day later, Karlene sought out McGregor, and signed over title to her 1995 GMC Suburban SUV, a clean car with 239,000 on the odometer. Karlene loved "The Beast" dearly, but was considering trading in anyway for a new ride. "It's been so hard for me to say goodbye to that car for years, but the experience of giving it to Sharon brought me great happiness. While I am getting a new car, I received far more joy in giving her my car than I could ever receive from a new car. It's kind of awesome," Karlene said.
Yes, this is what doing the right thing looks like. You see it all the time in our aviation world, but rarely do we see mainstream media covering it so the public can see the high quality of people in the pilot community. We should all learn something about "paying it forward" with this selfless act of generosity.
I was the recipient of Karlene Petitt's serious motivational chops a few years ago, when she helped me get over a rough patch, asking nothing in return.
In 2014, I returned quite bummed from Oshkosh 2014. I had just staged the GA Power Collective Panel Discussion at my Oshbash event, sitting reps from seven major aviation associations to try and see if we could spark something that would get these associations to work together in hopes that we could one day have 1,000,000 certificated pilots. But after the successful event, the effort fell flat, and any forward momentum was lost. I failed to get buy-in from the associations to keep the discussion going, and was emotionally beat up pretty bad knowing that such a good and important idea could be blown off so easily.
Back at home, I stewed for a week, and then came to the conclusion that to wash the sour taste from my mouth, I'd need to drop off social media, kill this blog, and stop agonizing over working so hard to promote aviation on all the channels I had built. I was not seeing the ROI for my time, and it felt like the efforts I put into building the Airplanista "brand" had stalled. It was a low point, and I withdrew inward, going back under the rock I came from.
During this tough time, I had watched Karlene continue to promote her novel series, build a respectable online audience, and do it all while flying professionally. I knew her career was simply breathtaking, that she had raised a family of three girls while flying for a total of eight airlines and becoming type-rated in the A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737 and B727 in the process. She's earned two Master's Degrees along the way (human services and an MBA) and is currently a doctoral candidate in aviation with a focus on safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
So quite randomly, I reached out and explained by feelings of wanting to pack it in, hoping another writer and social media person could understand my situation. I was receiving great support from my wife, but thought a fellow writer could help me connect the dots on whether it was worth it to continue on a forward trajectory.
Karlene, who barely even knew me, exchanged a number of long emails, and word-by-word, she propped me back up. She did not have to do this, but she did anyway, and proceeded to coach me back from the cliff edge. Soon I realized all was not lost, and writer-to-writer, she told me to quit focusing on the results of my writing and just do it for the good it will generate for others. Her advice was to forget statistics, stop worrying about my reputation in aviation journalism, forget about being on the journalism "A" list or the "D" list, and just look at the work as a way of giving back. She took me from being bummed and wanting to quit, to feeling even more energized about my writing and my advocacy work.
At the time, I was writing for Airplanista only as a hobby, but by following Karlene's advice, I've grown my portfolio and now write in some form for every major aviation association (AOPA, EAA, NBAA, HAI) and several major print magazines, including Flying, Air & Space Smithsonian, Cessna Flyer and Piper Flyer. Without much effort - and without asking anything in return - she re-programmed me, and I am forever in her debt.
I believe this story should inspire you as it has me. If you want to learn more about Karlene and her successful novel series, all the info you need along with links to purchase just in time for Christmas is found here. And the next time you are in a position to help someone even when most others would not, remember, this is what pilots do.
We give back.