FORMER agriculture commissioner and Congressman Cleve Benedict has been a pilot for 60 years and has more than 4,000 flying hours. Since the late 1990s, he has volunteered with Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic.
The program taps volunteer pilots to take patients to distant medical centers for specialized services free of charge.
This year, for the 10th consecutive year, the nonprofit honored Benedict as regional and West Virginia Pilot of the Year. He flew 37 missions in his Cirrus SR-20 last year.
His most famous "fare" was Richard Norris of Hillsville, Va. A shotgun incident so disfigured Norris' face that he required the most comprehensive face transplant up to that time, including a new nose, teeth and jaw.
The initial surgery took 36 hours at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Benedict has flown Norris to the hospital numerous times since.
Typically, Benedict downplayed his services when talking to Tina Alvey of the Register-Herald in Beckley.
"I'm a lucky fellow," he said. "I can afford the gas needed for these flights."
Benedict's generosity of spirit must loom a great deal larger in the minds of the patients he helps.