The Pilot and the Passenger
Franklin Augustus/Nancy Parker
When I last talked to Franklin Augustus the occasion was a party to commemorate the life of a minority pilot who perished while flying.
Augustus was the pilot of the two person aircraft in which he and news anchor Nancy Parker were killed last Friday. I had the fortune, and ultimately the heartbreak, to know both. My conversation with Augustus was this past July 2, a date that is remembered for the 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. She too was at the controls of a two person aircraft.
It is relevant to the story to say that Augustus was black because he was proud to be one of his race who had his own airplane and who, as he boasted, was among the world’s few black stunt pilots. He was also proud of black aviation history, particularly the Tuskegee Airmen – the heralded all-black flying squad that distinguished itself during World War II. Augustus was a next generation pilot who cherished the stories of the war time aviators.
On that July night, a Metairie couple with a fondness for aviation staged a party. Earhart’s disappearance is so distanced by time that the atmosphere was festive including a group singalong to Kinky Freeman’s folk piece about Earhart’s flight:
There’s a beautiful, beautiful field
Far away in a land that is fair
Happy landings to you, Amelia Earhart
Farewell, first lady of the air
I now wonder if Augustus felt some sort of kinship with Earhart, who, like him, was among the few of his particular minority to sit behind the controls. He obviously felt a link to the Tuskegee pilots. That night he talked to me about wanting to glorify the memory of the group. He was hoping for a documentary, a book, at least a magazine article. Our discussion ended in an agreement to meet soon. That was the last time I talked to him.
My last conversation with Nancy Parker was also about books. At the time she was working on a children’s’ publication and was looking for how-to information. All the superlatives spoken about her are true. Both Parker and Augustus were interested in children’s causes including dissuading youth violence. They were both special people.
Fox 8 News faced an impossibly difficult task last Friday and handled it with dignity. Situation: What do when reporting about a horrible accident and you know that a victim is one of your own, but nothing has been verified? Protocol demands some sort of official conformation before revealing the names of victims. Shortly after the accident at 3 p.m. the WVUE newsroom knew that Parker was a passenger and that there were no survivors. Yet the early reporting could only talk about the accident without the details. In a live report from the crash site veteran reporter Rob Masson showed true professionalism as he calmly reported about the incident but could not make any revelations. He did his job well though anyone who knew what had happened could tell that he was aching inside.
A mutual friend told me how excited Augustus had been because Parker was interested in his story and was going to go flying with him. If only the story could have continued.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 p.m., REPEATED AT 11:30 p.m..WYES-TV, CH. 12.