Joanie invited us to accompany her and her girlfriends to hear Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly at Powell Hall. Giffords and Kelly were in town as part of the Saint Louis Speaker Series. This was actually Anne’s second visit to Powell for the day. She was there in the morning with her second graders, where they heard the Saint Louis Symphony. First the basics, the kids behaved and she didn’t lose any. The orchestra, played all that fun music for the kids that as an adult you wish that they would perform for you at the symphony, like the Blue Danube waltz, Beethoven’s 5th and Night on Bald Mountain. As if that wasn’t fun enough they would replay selected pieces, first as originally written and then in either a jazz, rock or hip-hop arrangement. Isn’t that just like the symphony, first they hook you as a kid, then they leave you strung out on Mahler?
Mark Kelly did most of the speaking last night, with his wife Gabby joining him for a few remarks near the end. They both participated equally in the moderated Q&A session afterwards. If there was a theme to the talk, I guess that it would be, “Never surrender. Never give up.” It started with a story about his 4+ foot mother becoming a New Jersey police officer. His dad already a policeman built her a copy of the seven-foot wall that she would be expected to vault to pass her police boards. In the beginning, she couldn’t even reach the top, but by the time she took her test, her time beat most of the other men’s.
Kelly like every other aviator that I have known is an excellent story-teller. His story of his first combat sortie during the Gulf war was precious. He was an Intruder pilot and inbound had to dodge multiple SAM launches. After pickling his bombs he decided to divert and return via Iran, to avoid the SAMs. On his way back, he heard chatter from the carrier’s Hornet pilots vectoring towards an Iraqi bogie. Their description of the bogie’s course and speed matched his. Putting two-and-two together, he fessed up to his “Flight of the Intruder” transgression. He admitted to not being a very good pilot, when he started out, but he kept plugging away at it and never gave up. Of his flight school class, he was the only one to become either a Top Gun instructor or a shuttle astronaut.
In his talk Mark spoke about his military career, his experiences at NASA where he piloted four space shuttle missions and of course the day that changed both of their lives and its aftermath. Neither Mark nor Gabby were very political in their talk, rather more aspirational. Only afterwards in the Q&A session was the topic of gun control raised and their response was surprisingly measured. They only advocated that guns be kept out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and abusive spouses. Gabby is not yet fully recovered and may never become so, but she hasn’t given up and continues to improve. Last year, she rode her bicycle 40 miles in a Tucson charity ride and has her eyes on the 120 mile route next year.