Summer 2006

Striking Off Into the Sunset

Roger McClure
South Africa is Roger McClure’s newest
destination, where the retired Continental
pilot will begin two new professional
enterprises: flying a  business jet in the
Middle East and teaching piano.

Many people find themselves at a loss upon retirement from a long career. But Roger McClure ’67, a veteran commercial airline pilot, is an unlikely candidate for such a fate.

This summer, after retiring from a successful run as a commercial pilot, McClure is moving from Kingwood, Texas, to Cape Town, South Africa, to pursue a twin career path as private pilot and piano instructor.

McClure studied instrumental music education at WSU in the 1960s, giving after-hour piano lessons on campus, with the intention of becoming a music teacher.

But history had other ideas. “Well, the Vietnam War came along,” he explains, “and at that point in time nobody was getting deferments for being a teacher. I said I’d rather join the Air Force and fly around than run around on the ground over there.”

Though the military’s stringent vision requirements kept him out of the pilot’s seat, McClure served eight years in the Air Force as a navigator and weapons systems officer on KC-135 Stratotankers and F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers.

Upon leaving the Air Force, McClure earned his pilot’s license. He spent some time working as a flight instructor for a small commuter airline on the west coast before being hired as a pilot on the original no-frills carrier, People Express. That company was eventually bought by Continental, from which McClure retired last year.

“When you’re 60 you can no longer fly,” he says, citing FAA regulations on commercial passenger planes. “So I became a simulator instructor. Then I found this job in the Middle East flying a Boeing business jet.”

His new position will allow McClure to live in South Africa, a country that has long held his fascination. “I had always wanted to go there, mainly for safari-type stuff,” he explains. “Apartheid ended in ’94, and in ’96 I went to the Cape Town area for the first time and found it absolutely stunning. I bought a home there two years ago with the idea that I might retire there someday. It became obvious that I could actually do this.”

Geography isn’t the only factor drawing McClure to South Africa; he also feels a humanitarian calling. “It’s like a first-world, third-world country there,” he says. “Wonderful restaurants, beautiful vineyards — and in the same area, there are settlements with homes made of corrugated tin and cardboard. Unemployment is probably 80 percent. South Africa has the highest incidence of AIDS by percentage in the world. Kids all over with no parents, kids who have the disease themselves.”

This pervasive desperation struck a note with McClure. “One individual can do a lot of good,” he says. “I’ve always heard all these stories about guys who retire, then don’t know what to do with themselves. I decided I’m going to get back into playing the piano, and get back into teaching, too. There was a violin player from the London Symphony who came down and set up a school. I could do the same — and certainly not get bored with my retirement.”

Among the cargo moving overseas with McClure is a Steinway B-model grand piano, which he purchased only recently. “I bought the piano because I’d always wanted one,” he explains. “Around my 60th birthday I decided if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. And I wasn’t positive that I was going to move. But now that I am, it’s got to go with me.”

McClure didn’t set out to spend a life in the air, but looking back on it now, he has no regrets over the way things turned out. “If it hadn’t been for the Vietnam War,” he says, “I would have been teaching music in Kansas somewhere, probably.”


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