Local Obituaries

Eastern pilot who flew President Carter — his wife’s former beau, dies at 96

Eastern Airlines pilot Clyde Roach flew President Carter to and from Miami a couple times after the president’s term ended in 1981. The Carter and Roach family were close. Clyde’s wife Roxie Jo had dated the future president when both were teenagers in Plains, Ga.
Eastern Airlines pilot Clyde Roach flew President Carter to and from Miami a couple times after the president’s term ended in 1981. The Carter and Roach family were close. Clyde’s wife Roxie Jo had dated the future president when both were teenagers in Plains, Ga. Courtesy Marilyn Allen

One of the most conservative voices on the Miami Herald’s editorial page is silenced.

No, Clyde Roach was not a columnist, or affiliated with the media company except as a paperboy as a child. But with 45 published letters between October 2003 and the most recent one, on April 27, the 96-year-old, who died from heart complications on May 21, was one of the most prolific commentators. The page limits letter writers to one per month.

The former Eastern Airlines pilot, whose passengers included President Jimmy Carter, often weighed in on politics, South Florida, terrorism and global warming.

“Dad was always interested in learning new things and all about the world. He learned to use the computer at 70 years old and was on it every day researching and writing,” said his daughter, Marilyn Allen.

What his research — and life’s experience — taught the World War II Army Air Corps pilot was: Stop yer sobbing.

His final letter in April read:

We are spending more than $150 billion annually on overseas military bases around the world. The United States maintains about 800 military bases. What are we trying to do — be the world’s mama?

On fussing over all that Russia chatter? Put a nyet to that, he wrote in March.

Global warming? This one ran the day after last Christmas:

I am sick and tired of hearing about global warming. Body heat from humans is more than enough to explain global warming.

Agree, disagree, it didn’t really matter to Roach.

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Members of the Roach family. Back row: Tina, Steve, Lance, great-grandchildren, and Stacey. Middle row: Roxanne, Roxie, Clyde Roach, Marilyn Allen. Bottom row: Robert, great-grandchildren, and Katie. Courtesy Marilyn Allen

“I always knew my father had knowledge on any subject because of an abundance of life experiences. What really impressed me was the fact that he was full of grace, never judgmental of others, always friendly and helpful to all,” said his daughter Roxanne Roach.

Roxie Jo Roach, his wife of 70 years, agreed. “He read everything he could get his hands on — and was interested in dying to see what it was like up there. He never prejudged things. He lived the way he wanted to live and tried the best he could in every aspect.” She chuckles. “Seventy years is a long time with one man.”

Now about that Carter connection. As teenagers in Plains, Georgia, Roxie Jo (then Logan) dated Jimmy Carter before he met Rosalyn Carter in 1945. After a brief falling out when Roxie ditched Carter at his homecoming dance for somebody else — “He was such a nice boy, too sweet for me,” she laughs — they resumed their friendship through the years.

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Clyde Roach (right) and his wife Roxie Jo Roach (left) were married 70 years. Courtesy Marilyn Allen

Clyde Roach, who flew the Carter family to and from Miami just after Carter’s presidency ended in 1981, knew all about the old romance. “He didn’t have a jealous bone in his body,” said his wife, now 89. “My husband said [Carter] should have been a preacher. I felt that way as well.”

A Miami Edison graduate in 1940 — despite flunking English twice — Roach learned rudimentary welding and was hired by Eastern that year as a cleaner and to play on its baseball team. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941. Altie Roach, his mother, pinned his pilot wings on his uniform at Luke Field Air Force Base in Arizona in June 1943.

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Clyde Roach’s mother Altie Vineyard Roach pinned his pilot wings on his uniform at Luke Field Air Force Base in Arizona in June 1943. Courtesy Marilyn Allen

Roach was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal for saving the lives of most of his crew members when his aircraft was shot down in the English Channel during the Normandy invasion.

In 1966, Roach made the front page of the Herald when he safely landed an Eastern Airlines 727 jet on its belly at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth. The plane’s landing gear malfunctioned after takeoff. There were no injuries.

“Naturally, you’re always worried,” Roach told reporters. “But if you have good equipment, you do the best you can and it all works out all right.”

Roach retired from Eastern in 1981 and worked as a consultant. He was an expert witness in several cases involving the airline industry.

A gentle soul with a unique way of teaching life’s lessons. He was my Dad, seeker of knowledge and the best father a girl could hope for, teaching her to always stand up for what’s right. He made perfect sense and lived as he died, with grace.

Marilyn Allen.

A spirited mass of contradictions right to the end, he went to the gym almost every day up until April and championed physical fitness. He loved gardening at his South Miami home. Yet he was an unrepentant smoker.

And, yes, Herald readers got wind of that in an April 2009 letter to the editor in which he blew smoke on taxing smokers:

I feel smoking has enhanced my ability in the area of memory, problem solving and reaction time. A conclusive study at Stanford University proved nicotine to be beneficial to pilots.

Roach was born in Miami on Feb. 8, 1921. His earliest memory was of the 1926 hurricane, which devastated South Florida.

“The family was gathering in our house, a two-story, box-like wooden affair. We had not received a warning — we didn’t have a radio,” he wrote in a Miami Stories article published in the Herald in 2012. For months, the family lived with neighbors until his father, Arville, could build another house, with borrowed money and volunteer labor.

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Fishing for snook, in the Everglades, Keys and Miami, was one of Clyde Roach’s favorite activies, said his daughter Marilyn Allen. Courtesy Marilyn Allen

For the next five years, the family lived without electricity, running water or modern plumbing. Dad built a small outhouse. “A two holer with just enough room inside to drop your pants,” Roach wrote.

He enjoyed fishing trips to the Keys, even when U.S. 1 ended at Lower Matecumbe and the railroad continued on to Key West. Roach saw his first show at 10, at the Olympia Theater in downtown Miami.

“I can still visualize the rounded ceiling with twinkling stars and variety shows. Mae West always drew large crowds,” he wrote more than 80 years later.

“I admired many things about my Dad. He taught me to box, fish, shoot, throw, catch and fly an airplane among many other things. All I ever heard from other pilots that flew with him were words of praise. He was very much into preserving little facts about specific aircraft that could prevent accidents,” said his son, Stephen Roach.

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Clyde Roach (left) was on the Honor Flight for Memorial Day 2015. Roach, with his son Steve (right), was named honorary captain. Courtesy Marilyn Allen

His missives weren’t only directed to readers of the editorial pages. He stipulated that there be no services after his death. In a memoir, left for his family, he issued a directive:

After my death and you are sad, don’t think you are grieving for me. You will be grieving for yourselves. So I’ll give you two days to feel sorry for yourselves, and if you don’t stop, I’ll come back to haunt you.

The memoir’s final words, in caps: YOU ALL HAVE A GOOD DAY!

Roach’s survivors also include his grandchildren Robert Roach and Stacey Pearce and four great-grandchildren.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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