Retirees everywhere take advantage of their golden years to travel. Others devote themselves to volunteering. Ninety-year-old Edina resident Gordon “Gordy” Lewis has found a unique way to marry those twin passions.
Any given week, Lewis can be found crisscrossing the Upper Midwest, couriering patients to Rochester’s Mayo Clinic on his single-engine Cirrus SR22 airplane. He provides his time and services through Angel Flight Central (AFC), a Kansas City-based nonprofit.
“Angel Flight transports adults and children with medical needs – but also financial constraints, making it hard for them to get to centers offering specialized care.” This no-cost transportation is a godsend for many, particularly families in rural areas.
Since its inception in 1995, Angel Flight has flown 24,000 passengers nearly 10 million miles. Lewis is responsible for a fair few of these.
In some ways, Lewis is among the least likely of the organization’s 400 volunteer pilots (and not just because he recently marked his 90th birthday). He came to flying late in life. Over a long and productive career in engineering and sales capped by ownership of a steel fabrication firm, Lewis never gave aviation a second thought.
At age 67 – when many of his peers picked up golf or another more commonplace hobby – Lewis took his first flying lessons, courtesy of his son John. As a retirement pastime, piloting proved squarely in his wheelhouse (or cockpit, as the case may be).
After years as part of a Twin Cities-based flying club, he finally bought a plane of his own in 2000. He upgraded to his trusty Sirrus several years later. Lewis’ growing aviation network eventually put him in touch with Air Lifeline, an allied charity that has since merged with Angel Flight.
Last year proved a banner one for Lewis. He flew more than 20 round-trip missions – a personal record – and surpassed 300 career flights with Angel Flight.
Those milestones did not go unmarked. In November, Angel Flight invited Lewis to Kansas City to receive a rare Lifetime Achievement Award. His daughters Mary and Stephanie and son John accompanied him to the celebration.
While he appreciates the honor, Lewis is more thankful still for the lasting personal connections he has made. “As you might expect, many of our passengers have chronic conditions and regular appointment needs.” Unsurprisingly, after all that air time together, some of these repeat patients have become good friends.
“Many of these people are on my Christmas card list,” he said. Lewis has also been invited to a number of weddings and other get togethers.
“It’s been, all around, a great experience.”