Natalie Roberts has been a nurse for nearly 35 years and feels as if she has finally found her calling in Hospice nursing. Roberts, a registered staff nurse with Hospice of Western Kentucky, finds joy in helping grant her patients’ wishes in the time they have remaining. When 89-year-old Korean War veteran John Cox told Roberts he would love the opportunity to fly one more time for his 90th birthday, Roberts set the wheels in motion to make it happen.
Through the Hospice Wish program, which is funded by donations from businesses and individuals in the community, and the generosity of local pilot Stuart Snow, Roberts was able to make Cox’s wish come true.
At 9 a.m. Friday morning, Cox walked across the tarmac from his wheelchair to the pilot’s seat of the 1967 Cessna Skyhawk 172, which held several similarities to Cox’s first plane, a Cessna 170. That was the same plane Cox logged over 2,200 miles in, and yet, it still wasn’t his favorite plane he owned.
“My pride and joy was a Piper Apache — which is a twin-engine,” Cox said.
Cox donned his headset and took to the controls before taxiing down the runway with Snow in the co-pilot’s seat, and Roberts as a rear passenger. The trio took off into a sky of bright blue before spending nearly an hour in the sky.
While airborne, Cox requested to do a 360 and a touch and go before landing the plane himself with Snow by his side.
When Snow asked him how long he wanted to stay in the air, Cox responded, “As long as we have fuel.”
While it appeared Cox hadn’t lost his pilot’s touch, he said his love of flying started as far back as he could remember.
“When I was an infant, my mom and dad took me to an Air Show — and I fell in love with it then,” Cox said.
Born in Chicago, Ill. on September 25, 1929, Cox said he stocked shelves as a teenager at A&P grocery store so he could save up enough money to afford the $8 it took to pay the pilot and rent the plane at the North Chicago Palatine Airport. He was 16 years old when he earned his pilot’s license and said of the experience, “I loved every minute of it.”
Cox was drafted into the Army right out of college and stationed at the Hawaiian Infantry Training Center, Schofield Barracks. Although this time period classifies Cox as a Korean War veteran, he will tell you that the high point of his military career was teaching Montgomery Clift how to handle a weapon for a scene in “From Here to Eternity.
With a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, as well as a master’s, Cox would go on to hold several positions with notable companies including United airlines, Mercury Motors and Avon.
Undoubtedly, Cox most notable job-related experience was the nine years he worked as Vice President of public relations and franchising for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Cox was actually the KFC spokesman that was responsible for updating the media during Colonel Harland Sanders final days, before he died of pneumonia in December of 1980, after a six-month battle with acute leukemia.
“He was really a very hard-working man,” Cox said, looking toward his kitchen at the hand-signed Norman Rockwell print of the Colonel hanging above the sink in his apartment. “To John Cox, my dear friend and fellow workman, a great motivator and inspiring fellow. With God’s blessings on you John, Sincerely, Col. Harland Sanders.”
Although Cox has had many enviable experiences in his lifetime, it has been more than 30 years since he has flown an airplane, and it was an experience he savored.
“I would encourage everybody that wants to fly to go out and do it,” Cox said. “I think it helps put the whole world in perspective.”