- Posted May 7, 2014 by
Lee Owens Foundation raises money for deserving flight students
"The man who finally taught me to fly was Richard Goodwin," recalls Owens. "He was British. He'd been a pilot in World War II, flying Spitfires, and then he came over and was flying cropdusters and he taught me."
As rich as Goodwin's story sounds, Owens is the one who should write the memoir. Even his wife Peggy often can't remember the exact details that led him to where he is today.
"I could try, but you're gonna have to get him to fill you in," she says.
"I grew up the son of land-sharing farmers," says Owens. He recounts briefly the lifestyle of his family, leaving out any truly gritty descriptions while focusing on a clear picture of racially-divided Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s.
After learning to fly "on the plantation," as he puts it, Owens joined the Air Force for a half dozen years.
"When I got out, I got my private pilot certification in 1977. I flew packages for awhile, mail all over the U.S., then I went and got my instructor certification in 1988," he says.
Owens' words aren't eloquent, but his easy and open manner speaks to a life that has been, and continues to be, very involved in his community. He mentions the Arrow Club; he mentions the Tuskegee Airmen. He recently showed up at a Glendale city council meeting to formally accept Mayor Jerry Weiers' designation of February as Black History Month.
Today, Owens teaches at the CAE Oxford Aviation Academy in Mesa. He's been instructing young pilots there for the last eight years.
"I just try to be the best instructor I can be," he says.
Owens is passionate about educating young people who would otherwise not have access to pilot's training, especially young people of color. Again and again, he cites the importance of his own initial aviation instruction.
He's even started a foundation to fund a few of his goals. The Lee Owens Foundation, a registered nonprofit, is collecting donations to finance a scholarship program to provide flight education to deserving young people.
Art Mobley sits on the board of directors for the Lee Owens Foundation and accompanied Owens to the city council meeting. Mobley said he looks forward to seeing what the foundation could do for the community in the future, and acknowledged that Owens' background provided him with a unique perspective to see educational needs that others might overlook.
"There's nothing wrong with being a rapper," says Owens. "There's nothing wrong with young people being dancers or singers." But all of that takes talent, he adds. At heart, Lee Owens is a teacher.
"Anyone can be me," he says. "Anyone with access to the right education; anyone who takes the initiative to secure experience for themselves. That's why I started the foundation."