NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nancy Parker was known for her off-camera wit, warmth, and devotion to family and for her on-camera, Emmy-winning knack for presenting a story.
Franklin Augustus was her latest subject, a pioneer African-American stunt pilot with a half-century of flying experience who sometimes visited local schools wearing a superhero’s mask to deliver anti-drug messages.
It was the perfect match of storyteller and story but it came to a sudden, stark end last week. Augustus’ two-seat biplane crashed and burned shortly after takeoff Friday from New Orleans Lakefront Airport with Parker aboard. Both died in a crash that remains under investigation.
New Orleans is still saying goodbye.
Xavier University will host a memorial Friday for Parker, who is survived by her husband Glynn Boyd, a former reporter who now is a spokesman for a suburban sheriff’s office, and their three children. She was remembered over the weekend in a neighborhood “second-line” parade (so called because watchers fall in behind the band to form a second line of marchers). A makeshift memorial of flowers, balloons and other memorabilia remains outside the WVUE-TV studios where Parker, 53, was a popular anchor for 23 years.
It was a job the Opelika, Alabama, native appeared destined for since her days at the University of Alabama in the 1980s.
“She had all of the charisma that you’d expect, but she also had a just down-home quality about her that made her very likable,” Ed Mullins, the retired dean of the university’s College of Communications recalled Tuesday. “It made sources really open up to her.”
She gravitated to television, Mullins said, after print journalism classes where she honed writing skills admired by colleagues.
“She was the person that I went to in our newsroom when I was working on a story that I wanted to make sure I had the right touch on,” said Rob Masson, a longtime New Orleans broadcast veteran.
A memorial is being planned for Aug. 31 at the airport for Augustus, who was well-regarded among his fellow pilots of smaller aircraft at Lakefront.
Augustus was the chairman of a Louisiana chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., an organization dedicated to the memory of the African American pilots and those who trained them during World War II at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman confirmed that Augustus was a reserve deputy. Gusman’s office provided pictures of Augustus in superhero “Drug Fighter” garb.
Biographical information on Augustus from Tuskegee Airmen Inc. says he sometimes talked of having grown up poor in New Orleans, and how he wanted to interest young people in aviation — as an alternative to the lure of drugs.
“I witnessed it and I heard it from others: He worked tirelessly for the kids,” Owen Bordelon, a pilot who has flown his small plane out of Lakefront for decades, said Tuesday.
For all the camaraderie Augustus shared with other pilots, his private life was something of a mystery.
“All of us know little pieces about him but no one has the whole picture,” said Bordelon.
Bordelon was among the last people to see Augustus and Parker before their flight. He chatted with them before piloting his plane on a short trip to the Stennis airport in south Mississippi. “By the time we got to Stennis, the phone was ringing off the hook. It had already happened.”
Masson was at the scene for WVUE. He knew, but was not yet able to report, that one of the victims was a treasured friend.
He said that recalling Parker’s professionalism helped him, and colleagues in the studio, maintain on-camera composure.
“The mantra I had as I got through that afternoon was, ‘What would Nancy do?’ That kind of got me through it,” Masson said.