Friday, August 5, 2011

Ode to Keavy

Some predictable words were said over Keavy Nenninger's casket last week. If you stay in the flying game long enough, you'll hear that old overworked platitude. You'll hear it again and again. You'll hear it at the funerals and the memorials. You'll read it in the obits and the columns, in bars and hangars. 

She/he died doing what she/he loved.

I don't want to hear it.

If Keavy had a crystal ball before she went up that day—two weeks ago—and that ball told her she would crash, do you think she would say, “Well, I think I'll go up anyway. I love it so much, dying will be worth it.”?

No. She wouldn't. So don't tell me that. Instead, tell me she died living and loving her life. Because that was the essence of who Keavy was.

I've been flying for over 40 years. I've lost many friends and acquaintances. Most were military pilots. A few of them died in spectacular crashes that made big news and even history. But when word reached me about Keavy it hit me worse than any of the others. It was a kick in the gut.

She was our “airport girl,” a daughter-figure to us graying pilots. She washed our planes, fueled them, begged rides, and sat for hours at a time with us listening to the tales and the techniques. She couldn't get enough. I remember numerous times seeing her running toward me, arms open, then the hug and the great smile. And the question I always knew was coming: “Are you flying today?”

Of course I also saw her throw her arms around the likes of Pete, Gordy, George, Tom, Bosch, Steve, B.J. and anyone else who had a plane. She especially loved us warbird drivers.

I took to Keavy because I never had a daughter. If I did, I would want her be like Keavy.

I knew she had a “life” off the airport too. You bet. She was a model student, a champion soccer player, and an achiever in every club or group she joined. Her energy for living was inexhaustible and she sowed it everywhere she went. Her enthusiasm for living life to its fullest was utterly contagious.

She soloed and got her license at sixteen. We missed her when she left for college. One of the most often asked questions at Moontown Airfield when her mom, Lisa, came out to fly, was, “When is Keavy coming back?”

After dazzling her professors at St. Louis University she collected an aerospace engineering degree, then got a commercial pilot certificate. She interned with Delta and used her travel passes to see the world.

A couple of months ago she called me and said she wanted to be a military pilot. “That's wasted talent,” I told her, but she wanted it badly—wanted another challenge.

Then I met an officer in charge of pilot recruiting in the Andrews Air Guard and told him about her. His eyes got big. “She's exactly what we're looking for,” he said. “Please have her get in touch with me.” She did. They began processing her application. I anticipated bragging to the guys that I had created a new second lieutenant and a new KC-135 tanker pilot. 

My best memory of Keavy was the day I saw three Yak-52s roaring overhead in a perfect military “vic” formation. They taxied in. One was Gordy's plane but he wasn't in it. In the front seat sat a grinning Emily Dover, another young lady who became smitten with the flying disease at our airport; and in the back, a beaming Keavy. Both wore hats that read, Women Fly. With those two around, our cups ran over with the sweet zests of life. They made us smile a lot. 

I didn't know Emily very well. Two years later her short life would end in an unexplained crash. Two years after that, Keavy would follow her into Eternity.

Now our cup is not so full without them, but our lives are richer because of them.

We bade So Long to Emily two years ago.

Now, So Long, Keavy. Our eyes will go wet every time we remember you.

And that will be often.

From Keavy's Facebook page: "I love this plane!"

The next-to-last entry in Keavy's Facebook page: "Gravity is over-rated!"
She was right.


lowflybye said...

Well said Alan...Clear Skies & Tailwinds to you Keavy

Luke said...

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Cedarglen said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful friend with us. RIP.

Frank Van Haste said...

Captain Cockrell:

There is no way to make sense of it. No fairness, no justice, no rightness to it. This thing we do just gets closer to the lines drawn by the Fates, than do most other Earthly activities.

Ernie had it right, about Fate being the hunter. Reach for the stars, go upon laughter-silvered wings, take what is offered, prepare to meet Fate (hey, maybe you can cheat!). Raise a glass, for those Gone West.

Keavy and Emily crammed so much life into their too brief years. We grieve not for them, but for ourselves.

So long for now, Cap'n,


Alan Cockrell said...

Well said, Frank. well, well said.

Marianne Bryan said...

I am so sorry that you had it to do, but that was a beautiful memorial to a lovely young life...You express yourself so well...I have enjoyed reading your comments since my good friend , Mary Stewart, alerted me to your posts.

TUM 14 said...

Thanks, Alan for sharing her with us.

Bernie Hale said...

Thanks for sharing her, Alan.

Anonymous said...

Capt. Cockrell - I noticed this statement which piqued my curiosity

'A couple of months ago she called me and said she wanted to be a military pilot. “That's wasted talent,” I told her, but she wanted it badly—wanted another challenge. '

Why is joining the forces a waste of talent? Even though they don't know Keavy personally, I bet a large percentage of the youth yearn to push the envelope, and join the military.

I've heard criticism of the life in the forces from those outside - for the lack of financial growth (compared to the corporate world atleast), from family men inside who're unable to denote enough time, being constantly unsettled by moves, and the generic hesitant disposition of people to the danger; but not from passionate aviators.

RIP Keavy and Emily.

Homer Hickam said...

I didn't know Keavy but I wish I had. She was obviously a prodigious young woman. Thank you for your tribute, Alan. My condolences to Keavy's family and friends. Emily's, too.

Alan Cockrell said...

Response to Anonymous: I said that tongue-in-cheek. She knew what I meant. Appreciate your comment, though.

whick said...

Very sad Alan, thanks for sharing...whick

Lisa B. said...

Alan Thank you for putting into words the way I feel . I tell people that she knew what she wanted to do. She was at a point in her life where she was trying to figure out the next step.
Everyone she spoke to for advice had their own story , what worked for them. She had lots of advice,
but in the end she knew she had to plot her own course.
As pilots we respect the elements of the world we live and fly within. Some times those elements align in such a way that even the best of pilots cannot overcome.
The report may come back "pilot error" as most reports do . But you are right if she had the crystal ball to see the future, things would be different.
Lisa B. AKA Keavy's Mom

Aaron Komara said...


I have thought a lot about the loosing your life doing what you love, in the past and quite frequently here lately. However I had never really thought of it the way you put it. Living and loving life, even though that is so true. All of us who fly know and accept the inherent risks of the activity that we love and live for. I wish we had had a crystal ball. I had the opportunity to fly with Keavy a few times, and can assure, as I know you can, that she knew these risks well from her training with Emily and in no small part to the hangar flying provided by the "gray hairs". To not pursue a dream or something you want in life, is not really living. The norm in today's world is take the safe route and do what is easiest, and provides the most security. I know Keavy wanted to fly so bad! She worked very hard, and accomplished much to achieve her goals in aviation, and abroad. As far as youth, and people in general in today's world, Keavy was the exception. A wonderful, spirited person, who always had fun and made you smile. I will always believe she truly lived her life, and that is more than many will ever be able to honestly say about theirs.

Cedarglen said...

A little time has passed, but I KNOW that you and Keavy's other friends are still feeling the loss. A champion with bright, glowing future... I share your grief. It will get better, I promise, but the healing requires time. A 30 YO loss can still draw a tear or two, but not every week. I suspect that writing the recent post and reading the responses has helped you a bit. The readers understand, Alan and than you for sharing this very personal loss with us. In some measurable way, your postings, always with an enphasis on safety first, will help to prevent some of these losses. Your postings have already saved a few, I'm sure. Thank you, again. -Craig

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply. Makes me feel much better, and I bet the tongue-in-cheek remark made Keavy feel good too.

Blue Skies.

Craig said...

Alan, sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing your great memories of Keavy.

K1MGY said...

Thank you Alan.

I wish I had known her.

Alan Cockrell said...

Captain Alan, Your Lovely story about your "airport girl"....Keavy Nenninger's.......very moving...especially at this time....and place in the world!!!!!!.....I too, am very sad because now, she is gone, of course she would not have chosen to fly that day.....but she DID FLY.......and still is, I believe...THANK YOU!!!!!

Surely Keavy and Emily are Resting In Peace......
but why now....??????all I can say....

Julie Theriot

Ryan said...


Your website just popped up as a recommended read - I guess Google knows that I like aviation blogs. Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the link and saw the smiling face of one of my former students whose loss I still haven't fully come to grips with. The one thing I've been bouncing around in my head ever since I got the phone call is what you said in your first paragraph. I got to know Keavy pretty well while she was at SLU, and I know that she loved life in general and flying in particular with an exceptional passion, and whenever I hear someone say she died doing what she loved, I go numb trying to reconcile how fate can so cruelly take someone's life through the same thing that makes that person who they are. To lose someone at such a young age is awful, but to have that life taken by the same thing that makes that person such a shining star is horribly unfair. Thank you for sharing your story.

capnaux said...

Wow, Alan.

That was a beautiful ode to an obviously beautiful soul. You made me miss her without ever having known her, but just like you said, my life is richer because of it.

Thank you for celebrating her passionate life with us.

Anonymous said...

I just thought you guys who know her better than me might want to hear another story about her:

When I was in my early teens I played ice hockey with her in Alabama. She left some of the more lasting memories of playing ice hockey for me, but there's no way she would've known I guess.

two things in particular;

1; We were starting a pond hockey league in the off-season, and the original manager for it was to be this guy, my mentor, called Jim Henson. But he died of a heart attack just before the league started. I was realy devastated, he was the first person I knew well to die. And after he died, Bill Nenninger, Keavys dad took over. Anyways, in the pond hockey league there isn't meant to be contact, it's more for fun and light, but alot of the kids including Keavy wanted to have body-checking. For some reason, I felt like this was a betrayal to Jim Henson, cause it makes people too agressive, and I always played defense so I didn't want the league to be like that. So since Keavy was one of the loudest mouths about it, and her dad allowed it, as soon as the next play started, I saw her with the puck and went straight for her, and she passed it immediately, but I still slammed her as hard as I could against the boards anyway, and she shouted at me 'I already passed the puck YOU IDIOT' and then a few moments later, I'd just passed the puck to our right wing, and I heard the loudest digging of ice skates into ice i'd ever heard, and then Keavy roared, and jumped into the f*cking air and tackled me, and shouted something rude to me...which leads me to the number two thing...SIGH - I HAD THE BIGGEST CRUSH ON HER EVER...I barely knew her at all, I was too shy to try to talk to her much, she was so cool. She was friends with one of my best friends in hockey, and any time she came over to talk to him I'd freak out. I bet she never noticed, and I'm pretty sure she thought I was a moron, maybe even mildly retarded. She was like the first real life crush I ever had. That kind when you can't even talk to someone, and you know they hate you. I recently was thinking about hockey again, it's been over a decade I guess, I figured she'd do something awesome, so I looked her up. I can't believe she's gone. She barely knew I existed, but I can remember those days, and her so clearly...
sorry if this is the wrong place to post this, she was so cool that I still feel like just talking about her to anyone who knew her will get me beat down and laughed at. I just have to get this off my chest. I'm realy sad to hear this news...

Squatch said...


I read your little story about Keavy and the Hockey. That was so Keavy to attack you. One of my favorite traits of hers. But I would say after spending many years fighting with Keavy and seeing her playfully fight with others that she must have liked you because she would only do that with people she liked. If she had not, you would have simply been ignored. Thanks for sharing your story. -Pete

Anonymous said...

I would like to add to Anonymous and the story about Keavy and hockey. She played during middle school. I was able to attend some of the games she played. In one game she actually checked a kid. The parent next to me said " wow did she really check that guy"
of course the ref saw it and she spent 2 min in the penalty box .
She got a round of applause.
'Way to go Keavy!!!. If Anonymous would do me a favor - Call her dad,
I know he would love to here your story.
Lisa B. AKA keavy's Mom