Data News Weekly Staff Edited Report
NEW ORLEANS — A memorial service was held to honor the life of trailblazing pilot Franklin Augustus drew hundreds of people that included family, friends, colleagues and City leaders to the Lakefront Airport on August 31, 2019.
Augustus, 69, died two weeks ago in a plane he was flying with his sole passenger, longtime FOX 8 news Anchor Nancy Parker, who was also killed. Parker was doing a story on Augustus highlighting his illustrious career as a pilot and his long record of giving back to the people of New Orleans.
Besides being a stunt pilot and avid flyer, Augustus was a longtime community activist, a U.S. Army Veteran (Military Police), the President of the Lake Charles Tuskegee Airmen Chapter and a New Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office Reserve Deputy.
Though he was not a Tuskegee Airman himself, Augustus used his platform with the organization to encourage other young Black children to become pilots by creating a Youth Aviation Program in conjunction with the City of New Orleans, the Youth Eagles Program and the Civil Air Patrol.
30 years ago, Augustus described himself as the “world’s only Black Civilian Air-Show Acrobatic Pilot” in a 1988 Times-Picayune article that touched on the color barrier in New Orleans.
“I want to let the young people know that if I can make it, anybody can,” he said in the article.
Augustus also headed The Drug Fighter Organization, which works to turn children away from crime and gang violence in New Orleans. As part of his work, Augustus dressed up as the superhero of his creation, “The Drug Fighter,” and gave inspirational talks to children in the City while exposing them to flying and helping develop their math and computer skills.
His friends said it was only fitting that the place to say goodbye to Augustus was where he loved to be most: The airport.
“He loved his airplane he wouldn’t let you touch it,” said close friend Lawrence Stovall. “Don’t touch the plane he said. You couldn’t touch the plane.”
Even Augustus’ family couldn’t imagine just how many people the trailblazing pilot, drug fighter, and veteran impacted.
“There’s people from all over the country,” said Augustus’ brother, Henry Augustus. “After he passed, I got calls from as far away as San Diego. This has been amazing; I have to admit.”
They’ll also always remember how much he loved helping others.
“He never said no,” said friend and Chairman of the Lakefront Airport Committee, Wilma Heaton. “He was the real deal, always volunteering. It was never about what he got out of it; it was about what he could do.”
Even after his death, Augustus’ work continues. A scholarship fund launched to honor Augustus that will help a young underprivileged kid follow in his footsteps and get an education in aviation. It’s already taking off.
“I just had someone walk up and say, ‘I want to donate $5,000 for the first year,’” said Heaton. “That’s New Orleans. Franklin is an inspiration.”
Donations can be addressed to the Franklin J. P. Augustus Aviation Scholarship Fund c/o Tuskegee Airmen, Lake Charles Chapter, P.O. Box 57041, NOLA 70157.
“I met Franklin Augustus when I was 13 years old at the Desire Community Center. He was one of three of my mentors in Karate that also included Grandmaster Ferdinand and Grandmaster David Blunt,” Grandmaster Eric O’Neal, Sr., founder and creator of Blue Lion Karate and Lionman Foundation told Data News Weekly.
“He was a phenomenal individual that impacted my life and made me believe anything was possible. What he taught me went well beyond the dojo. He gave me the blueprint for living a life where you can strive for excellence and serve others.”