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Saturday, June 2, 2007

Terry McLaughlin
Today my good friend, Terry McLaughlin, died of pancreatic cancer.
This flying stuff is a funny thing.  Seems like all my best friends are pilots, people I've flown with, that I taught to fly and who taught me about flying and life. 
I met Terry about thirty-five years ago.  I was a pea green flight instructor working at Boeing Field at a place called Hangar No. 1.  Of course, I thought I knew all about flying and was the best instructor anywhere.  Terry showed up one day and wanted to learn to fly.  Neither of us had any notion that we would become great friends, that we would learn together so many things about so much more than just flying.
Terry was a guy who, like me, had wanted to fly all his life, now he had the chance and was going for the gold.  He was a few years older than me, a child of the Great Depression, with a bit of an underdog mentality and an impressive streak of determination.  When we met he worked as a computer technician at the University of Washington, a post he would hold until retirement.  Although computers were glamorous, strange and mysterious things in those days, his pay wasn't very good, not bad, but not very good.  Further, Terry had recently divorced and we all know how that goes.  Plus, Terry had a, shall we say, "frugal" approach to life.  Later, when he had amassed a few bucks, he stuck to living the low-budget life, investing every cent, wasting nothing, driving beater cars and wearing raggedy clothes.  But under that veneeer was a man with a brilliant memory, voracious curiosity and appetite for learning.  And he loved to fly.
During the Reagan Depression of the early 80's I became unemployed.  I tried to earn money however I could, with little success.  By then Terry had saved enough to buy a Cessna 150 in partnership with mutual friend Bruce Gorham.  Then Bruce went to Alaska, so Terry bought out Bruce and then bought a 172, too.  I was dead broke.  In my desperation to earn enough to put food on the table I approached Terry to see if we could make a deal so I could use his airplanes to do a little instructing.  When I say I was broke, I mean I was broke--absolutely at the end of my string.  I wasn't just broke, I was hungry, and I mean hungry as in needing something to eat.  I'm not sure Terry realized that, but he wanted to go to a hamburger joint to talk things over.  Only problem was, I was so broke I couldn't even afford a burger.  I said as much and Terry offered to buy.  When I reminded him of it years later, he'd long forgotten the episode (the only time I ever caught him forgetting something), but I hadn't.  His $5 kindness was something I'll never forget because it literally put food in my mouth.
Although I had taught him to fly and we were friends, we'd sort of gone our own ways, so he wasn't so sure loaning me his airplanes was a good idea.  Eventually I talked him into it and I set up a really, really small time operation I called Flight Proficiency.  This was about 1981 or '82.  As things often go in the flyin' biz, I made a little money during the summer, but when the weather cooled things slowed down and I had to think of something else.
Life improved.  One day we went over to Doug Sapp's place to look at a couple of unusual airplanes nobody knew anything about.  Chinese airplanes, "Yaks," whatever that meant.  Doug had three or four of them for sale.  Terry and I had never even heard the word "Nanchang" before, but we were curious, had seen Doug's ads and other ads for something called a "Yak-52," whatever that was, so we flew over to Omak to have a chat with Doug.  Very interesting.  Later, Terry made a deal with Ron Keesling to buy a couple of CJ-6's and import them directly from China.  One of those was the very first CJ I ever flew.  We taught each other how to fly the airplane, with its "strange" pneumatic systems and round engine.  Later we woud partner up to import  more CJ's.
I guess it was a little over a year ago I learned that Terry had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Not good.  Very poor remission rate.  Terry took chemo therapy.  He lost weight.  More chemo.  Lost more weight, he was in pain.  But he kept plugging along.  He didn't come around the airport as much, but he still had his 150 and 172 plus a few CJ's he was working on.  Eventually, he sold the CJ's to Barry Hancock.
A couple of weeks ago he came by to take a look at the Yak-52TW I'd recently flown up from Texas to sell for T.D. Kelsey.  Terry liked it.  But he didn't look very good.  He was in pain, had lost more weight and had no energy.  His old girlfriend, Terry Burt ("Miss Two," or "Terry Two" as we call her), called to tell me he was staying with "Al the Pal" Hurst because he was getting weaker and needed someone to keep an eye on him. 
Last Thursday night I went over to Al's to see how Terry was doing.  Not good.  He had jaundice, was down to 117 pounds, and although he'd been driving a car just a few days earlier, he'd pretty much spent the day in bed, unable to eat, tired, in pain.  He told me a hospice nurse was coming over the next day to take a look at him.  He just wanted to get it over with.  We said our goodbyes.
I talked to Al the Pal yesterday. He said that when the hospice nurse came Terry was rushed to the hospital because he was in such poor condition.  From there he'd gone to hospice care.  A couple of the old Hangar No. 1 guys came by, Dan Skarperud and Ron Keesling, but Terry couldn't talk, though he was conscious. I was flying until 10 last night and again today, so I couldn't get down to see him until tomorrow.
About 3 o'clock today Terry Burt called again.  Terry McLaughlin had died about an hour earlier.  She had been at his bedside, along with his daughter, Carol.  It had come suddenly, sooner than expected, but was no surprise.  Quiet, peaceful, a good way to go.
So long, amigo, I'm going to miss you.  I do already.
6:41 pm pdt

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