Pilot's heroism leads to lasting legacy through scholarship
Scott Sexton/Winston-Salem Journal. Posted: Sunday, February 8, 2015 12:05 am
At some point on Sept. 7,1995, Rep. Saxby Chambliss rose on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to read into the official Congressional Record the story of Ed Gannaway" an airline pilot and genuine hero.
Gannaway, 45, was flying Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529 from Atlanta to Gulfport, Miss. the morning of Aug. 22,1995, when one of the plane 's engines blew not long after takeoff. He knew it meant trouble, yet managed to keep control of the plane as it lost altitude over populated areas around Carrolton. Ga., and maneuver it over trees and power lines until he found a hayfield where he could attempt to
The plane broke into pieces, and it caught fire. But only four people onboard were killed, Gannaway being one of them. "Because of Ed Gannaway, 24 others are still alive. ...It will always be hard to face this loss, but I pray that it will be reassuring to know that Ed Gannaway died for the sake of other lives."
No one knew at the time, but that extraordinary act would touch off a chain of events back here in Winston-Salem that continues to affect lives to this day.
Ed Gannaway graduated from R.J. Reynolds High School in 1968. He was, classmates said, an athlete and weil-liked by his peers. "I knew him in grade school and junior high school, too," said Tim Ebert. "He was a good athlete and a good friend. He earned a lot of respect from people." After Gannaway's death, his classmates decided that perhaps they could do something in his memory.
"We had some people die in Vietnam but nobody was thinking about classmates dying when we were in our 40s," Ebert said.
The 3Oth reunion of the Class of '68 wasn't that far off, so organizers started to work. As the idea for a scholarship picked up traction, they decided to expand it to include ail departed members of the class to recognize all of their contributions.
And so it began. An endowment was set up to be managed by the Winston-Salem Foundation. The first scholarship, for $500, was awarded to a graduating senior at Reynolds in 1999. "'We were all 48 years old at the time, with children to put through college and other priorities," reads a history of the fund. "As word spread and enthusiasm grew, so did our endowment balance and the amount of scholarship dollars that we were allowed to spend."
That would be an understatement.
By 2000, the winner was receiving an award of $ 1 ,000. In 2003, the amount had increased to $2,000. By 2009, it was $5,000 and in 2013, it was $8,000 - payable $2,000 per year for four years.
Some 16 recipients have received $51,100 to date and the fund balance is an impressive $223,000, which is believed to be the largest scholarship program of its kind in the country created by one graduating class.
Things like that don't happen by accident. It took a group of people working together for a long time to make happen. And along the way. members of the class of '68 found something else in common: trying to build a legacy that will outlive them all.
"Ed's death really shook us up," said Woody Fox. "As we thought about Ed and what he'd done, it seemed natural to come to the point where we said 'Hey, let's don't just build a fountain over at Reynolds. Let's try to do something that will take us well into the future.' "
Like Ebert, Fox believes that his classmates embraced the idea tighter with each passing year. Becoming empty-nesters can do that. It frees up time (and money) as people of good heart begin applying the love and energy they spent on raising kids to the larger community. While it seemed natural to try and memorialize a classmate who died young while saving others, no one visualized just how it would grow.
"We just took it a year at a time and never really tried to think about what the future could be," Fox said.
But with the life (and death) of Gannaway serving as inspiration, what's happened in such a short time shouldn't be a surprise. "Ed Gannaway was a great American," Rep. Chambliss said on the floor on the House of Representatives in 1995, "and many lives are touched by his passing."
To return to the previous page, click here ( * ).