Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Raymond C. Ford

He retired from flying, but never really gave it up

ST. PETERSBURG — For Ray Ford, life was a subset to flying — high above the earth, relying on his instruments and the certainty of physics.

A 27-year employee of Ozark Air Lines, Mr. Ford relished the freedom and control of flight.

"I think it was the machine, the flight, the speed," said his daughter Sharon Lakings. "He liked to take off and be in the air. I guess the freedom more than anything else is what he enjoyed."

Mr. Ford died on Saturday of lung failure. He was 88.

In the Navy during World War II, Mr. Ford flew reconnaissance missions in the Pacific Ocean. He was promoted to captain and reassigned to a Martin PBM Mariner, a bulky seaplane in which he searched for German submarines.

After the war and a stint selling insurance, Mr. Ford joined the fledgling Ozark Air Lines.

He retired in 1980, in keeping with a regulation that required pilots to retire by age 60. He moved to South Pasadena in 1986 with his wife, Phyllis, a Canadian nurse he'd met in Bermuda during the war.

Macular degeneration prevented him from pursuing a dream of working as a flight instructor in retirement.

"He said he had to hang it up, that it was a good career," said Russell Ford, an American Airlines pilot and Mr. Ford's son. But family members suspected Mr. Ford missed flying more than he let on.

So on a crisp winter day in 2005, his daughter talked him into going on a tourist flight from Albert Whitted Airport. As the red 1933 biplane cruised above Pass-a-Grille, the pilot pulled a pin and swiveled the controls over to Mr. Ford, who sat beside him.

"You've got it," he said.

Art Rigsby, Mr. Ford's son-in-law and a private pilot, had asked the pilot to relinquish the controls.

"Hold 360," the pilot said. Mr. Ford knew that meant he was to fly due north. The beaches slipped by. The sun danced on the water.

Mr. Ford banked into all his turns perfectly, despite not having flown in 25 years.

• • •

The afternoon Mr. Ford died, Art and Linda Rigsby sat on their back porch, sipping wine. They remembered that day three years ago, when Mr. Ford got one last chance to fly. And how well he did.

Just then, the red Albert Whitted biplane pierced the clouds overhead. They hadn't seen it in months, but there it was, plodding unmistakably along.

"We were just talking about the biplane, and there it was," said Linda Rigsby, 64. She ran down her street, waving as the plane disappeared.

"Bye, dad," she said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (813) 661-2431.


Raymond C. Ford


May 26, 1920.


Nov. 1, 2008.

Survivors: sons, Rodney and Russell; daughters, Linda Rigsby and Sharon Lakings; numerous nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

Service: 1 p.m. Nov. 11; Beach Memorial Chapel, 301 Corey Ave., St. Pete Beach.

He retired from flying, but never really gave it up 11/03/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 7:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Police: Uber driver's gun discharges during fight at Adventure Island in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An Uber driver's gun went off Sunday at Adventure Island during a fight between the driver and two passengers.

  2. Baker cautious on Pride politics


    Rick and Joyce Baker strode down Central Avenue Sunday amid rainbow flags, corporate booths, and blaring music of the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker chats Sunday with people at the St. Pete Pride Festival. As mayor, Baker did not sign a Pride parade proclamation, but now he says he would.
  3. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.
  4. Lightning among early suitors for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.

    Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who can be a free agent Saturday, counts the Lightning among his early suitors.
  5. Senate leaders try to appease members as support for health bill slips


    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

    Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, is one of the five Republican senators who announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted.