Ode to Larry – Pilot Down

“Three Pilots and a Preacher.” We met 15 years ago. All three pilots were part of the Kerr-McGee flight crew. Larry, Sully and David comprised the pilots in our oft played foursome. I was the preacher. I guess it was the meshing of schedules. They did not fly every day. And, of course, everyone knows preachers only work on Sundays. That meant when they needed a “fourth” I received a phone call.

larrysullyWe played most of the courses in the Oklahoma City area. Watching Larry play golf was lots of fun. He could look to be in trouble and give the rest of us an opening. Then in one quick turn he found safety and “par.” Try as I might, I never bested Larry – I don’t think. On one of his trips to Scotland flying for work, Larry returned with a memento of the trip for me – a golf ball from St. Andrews.

I remember playing at Earlywine North. We affectionately referred to a series of finishing holes as a version of “Amen Corner.” I could be leading David and Larry. By the time we made it through 16, 17, and 18, I could easily lose by several strokes. Maybe it was the choke factor. Maybe it was the extra self-imposed pressure that I just might win this time. Whatever it was, it generally kept me from the free soft drink at the end. Often I had to “pony up.”

One of the last times I played golf with Larry was out at Hefner South. David could not make the trip so Nathan joined the fun. Larry is the golfer in the distance. Sully, Bob, waits in the foreground. It was a gorgeous day.

I never knew quite how old Larry was. I knew he had been in the Air Force. I knew he had flown helicopters. Everyone liked Larry. Affable and polite. Thoughtful and respectful. Larry, I recently discovered could have been my father. Talk about well preserved. Age barely showed an effect on his game these last few years. Bother by occasional flare ups of arthritis, he could still strike the ball well and putt with the best of them.

Larry knew I had a penchant for running late. Getting away from the office can be tough sometimes. Over the past few years I would show up and my green fee would be paid for. No questions. No pay backs. Generous. Occasionally we talked on the phone. It had been a while.

David called me a couple of Fridays ago. “I just got a bad call,” he said gloomily. “Larry’s dead.” Disbelief gripped me. What happened? At the time it was uncertain. There would be no memorial. There would be no burial.

I have wondered how some find closure with the loss of a friend when there is no occasion to remember. It was his wish. I wish different. I missed a gathering of his friends. We are to play around soon in his memory. I hope it happens.

It seems there was not accident. As best as I understand it was with his accustomed pre-trip planning that the events of a couple of weeks ago unfolded. Looking for answers will prove futile. The person I need to ask is not here. Speculating is like chasing the proverbial tail. You may well come up with something but then you may not be sure it was worth the energy for it still leaves you wondering.

We will miss Larry. I miss Larry. Whatever darkness gripped him I am hopeful in the faith he expressed in the years since I had come to know him was set right in the light of Jesus.

Larry, thank you for the friendship. Thank you for never treating me like your son but a friend. I am the better for knowing you. I am hopeful I was the same for you.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.