Father’s suicide influenced hero pilot

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Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III
Most people have obstacles placed in their path of life. Some choose to let their paths be blocked. Others  overcome the difficulties that life throws at them, only to become stronger in the process.

Perhaps the most famous pilot of this century, Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III said the obstacles in his path came later in life than most people, but still made him stronger and prepared him for the event that made him famous.

When Sullenberger was in his early 40s, his father committed suicide, which left a lasting impression on the son.

“I was angry, hurt and devastated,” he said about his father’s death in 1995. “It was very difficult. But, it gave me a better sense of the fleeting nature of life and led me to want to preserve life at all costs.

“That was with me that day,” Sullenberger said, referring to the “Miracle on the Hudson,” the other defining event in his life.

He is best known for successfully landing US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in New York  after the plane was hit by a flock of Canada geese.

“That was with me in the 208 seconds it took,” he said swallowing hard, remembering his father’s life-threatening illness and hospitalization that led to his suicide. “Because I couldn’t save my father, I did everything I could to save everyone on that flight.”

Sullenberger said he now places a high value on human life, mostly because his father didn’t value his.

In his book, “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” Sullenberger first revealed this story and the pain it caused him.

“I’m willing to work very hard to protect people’s lives, to be a good Samaritan, and to not be a bystander, in part, because I couldn’t save my father,” Sullenberger wrote in the book.

Being a good Samaritan and a good leader are two of the topics he plans on broaching as the keynote speaker for the 2013 Rutherford Society Gala on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, at Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro.

The Rutherford Society Gala is an annual event held to recognize donors of $1,000 or more to the Middle Tennessee Medical Center Foundation. This black tie event features nationally known speakers like former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, “Good Morning America” co-host Robyn Roberts and, now, Sullenberger.

“Capt. Sully is a true American hero and consummate leader,” said Gordon Ferguson, president and chief executive officer of MTMC. “We are excited to hear about his experience and how we can apply some of the lessons he learned to our work here at the hospital.”

The “essential elements” of Sullenberger’s lessons are things he has thought about his entire life and are “near and dear” to his heart,” like the topics he explored in his second book, “Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America’s Leaders.”

In the book, Sullenberger takes a deep look at leadership with people from a variety of fields, from politics to sports, and explores the nature of leadership, what it means, what it takes, and how it can be fostered and developed in all of our lives.

“I talk about who I chose and why,” he said, adding moral courage and a desire to serve top the list of reasons.

In fact, moral courage and a desire to serve are two ways to describe Sullenberger.

He fostered these traits throughout his own life, first as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force and then as an airline pilot and safety inspector.

“Everything I had done was something I could draw upon during that 208 seconds,” he said. “Having lived my life in a thoughtful way helped and knowing being better isn’t always good enough helped prepare me for that day and for what came after.”

Sullenberger said he always strove for excellence and developed leadership skills throughout his life.

It was his search for excellence, leadership and reverence for human life that made his story touch so many in our nation.

On Jan. 15, 2009, when Sullenberger gracefully landed on water, the nation was at a crossroads, in a panic and looking for leaders, he said.

He sees the “Miracle on the Hudson” as an answer to the nation’s panic and a message of hope.

“It’s an example of what can happen when people come together. ... It’s an (example) of this hopeful vision of human nature,” he said.

Sullenberger said he believes the most essential part of human nature, and society as a whole, is shared responsibility.

“It’s about service above self and a willingness to share societal responsibility. These traits are mostly attributed to the Greatest Generation,” he said, adding his father served in World War II and felt a duty to serve his community when he returned from the war.

“In our society, we have obligations. It’s part of being a civilized society,” he said, adding one of those obligations is helping those in need overcome the obstacles in the paths of their lives.
Tagged under  Aviation, Business, Charity, Chelsey Sully Sullenberger, Event, Fundraiser, MTMC Foundation, Murfreesboro

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