By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
A decorated Air Force pilot and Vietnam veteran who flew 198 F-4 missions, Col. Wilbur Mehaffey also became an instructor, supervisor and director of flight operations for Air Force Training Command in Phoenix, Utah. Arizona.
His patient and balanced approach had a “calming effect” on everyone he flew with, “all but his future son-in-law,” Randy Nelson said.
‘I flew with him on a plane once, on a formation flight at night, and I was scared to death,’ Nelson said of the late Colonel Mehaffey, who will be added to the Wall of Honor next Friday at the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame Banquet. “One, night training is scary anyway. And I fly with the boss and with my future father-in-law. He had fun, not me.”
Mehaffey, who died two years ago at the age of 90, was a Baylor football player from 1948 to 1951 and was part of the team that lost to Georgia Tech, 17-14, at the Orange Bowl of 1952. He earned his accounting degree from Baylor in 1952 before being commissioned into the Air Force as a second lieutenant.
“He was extremely proud of Baylor and felt privileged to have been there,” Nelson said. “But, he was a humble man and spoke very little about his playing days. This Orange Bowl team was brought back six or eight years ago to be honored at a football game, and he has really appreciated that because it was a team honour.”
While in school, Mehaffey would take his teammates with him to Gorman, Texas, “and he would always take them flying”.
“I’m not sure their coach liked it, but he was always taking them flying,” Nelson said. “If you spoke to any of his former teammates, that’s what they would remember him for. ‘Oh yeah, we came home with Wil, and he gave us a ride around the circuit a few times. .”’
Gale Galloway, a Baylor teammate who has been inducted into the Hall of Fame and the Wall of Honor, said Mehaffey “never missed a single day of football practice and he never missed a single flight mission when called upon to risk his life in defense of our great nation and in defense of our lives.”
Receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit among his many military decorations, Colonel Mehaffey transitioned to his role as a flying instructor after flying nearly 200 missions, serving for 28 years before retiring from the military. from the air in 1980.
Two years earlier, Mehaffey was director of flight operations in Phoenix when Nelson first met him. As a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas, Nelson said he would tease Mehaffey about the Southwestern Conference rivalry, “as much as a lieutenant can tease the colonel.”
Randy met his future wife Janet, “the boss’s daughter”, at the base chapel when she was home for spring break. “Her mother (Jo B. Mehaffey) introduced us, with her father right next door, and we got married a year later,” Nelson said.
“When we first went out, a very good friend and I went on a double date with Janet and a friend of hers,” Nelson said. “And we never discussed who was with whom. So while I’m telling the story, if Janet hadn’t taken a seat up front with me, I would have married Ana, the other girl. I would tell this story all the time, and he would say to Janet, “You just got in the wrong place.”
As the Air Force’s only dual-rated instructor pilot, Mehaffey could both fly and teach T-37s and T-38s, Nelson said.
“When the bosses came to fly with the students, it was almost a sign,” Nelson said, “so they were always paired up with the top students, because you didn’t want him in trouble. But, no with Mehaffey He would come and say, “I’ll fly with the best student, I’ll fly with the worst student. And that doesn’t matter. “He was an exceptional pilot, but he was an exceptional instructor and people loved flying with him…all but his future son-in-law.”
Before retiring, Mehaffey also trained the Air Force’s first class of 10 female pilots in 1976.
“It was kind of a unique thing that he played such a big role in the institution of women in the ranks of Air Force pilots,” Nelson said. “And I think that’s one of the things he enjoyed a lot.”
Beginning his second career, Mehaffey accepted an entry-level accounting position with the Texas Department of Transportation in Austin and was soon promoted to director of the finance division.
“Here’s a guy who’s a full colonel, who’s been in the Air Force for 28 years, and he’s taking an entry-level position,” Nelson said. “He laughed it off, because he said on the first day, ‘I was in there with 18 recent college graduates who had just come out.’ And there he was, 50 or 51. Now he started as an entry level, he didn’t stay at the entry level.
In retirement, Mehaffey lived in Georgetown and enjoyed golfing, driving for Faith in Action, and volunteering at First United Methodist Church.
“He used to make us laugh,” Nelson said, “because he would come home and it was like, ‘Where have you been? And he said, “Well, I was driving. I was driving people.” And that’s what he did. He drove people to the hospital or to any appointment they couldn’t drive themselves. And not always, but at least half the time, the people he drove were younger than him.
On November 21, 2020, the day of his death, Mehaffey received the Wall of Honor Certificate of Registry from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum as a permanent testament to his commitment and passion for flight.
Mehaffey will be added to the wall of honor along with retired baseball colonel Tyree Newton, who is also a highly decorated Air Force pilot. The Hall of Fame Class of 2022 includes Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and Doak Field of Football, Athletics Gary Kafer and Quentin Iglehart-Summers, Golfer Jeremy Alcorn, Tweety Carter of Men’s Basketball, Josh Ludy baseball and volleyball All-American Taylor Barnes Fallon.
In addition to his three daughters and their wives, Mehaffey’s contingent at the banquet will include his second wife, Diane; her three stepchildren; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His first wife, Jo, died in 1990.
“What’s telling is that her stepchildren will all be there,” Nelson said. “They just thought the world of him. I don’t want to overstate that, but we feel like it’s a time when the rest of the world gets to know the guy we used to know.”
The Hall of Fame Banquet is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday, November 18 in the Cashion Building Banquet Hall on the Baylor University campus. Tickets are $50 per person, with table sponsorships also available at the Green ($600) and Gold ($800) tiers and can be purchased by contacting Association “B” at 254-710-3045 or by email at [email protected]