'Destined To Fly'
The Story of Pilot Ron Strauss– From Iowa to Elvis
By Sally Hoedel
Book Review by Nigel Patterson, July 2022
'Destined to Fly: The Story of Pilot Ron Strauss - From Iowa to Elvis'
by Sally Hoedel
Elvis Author LLC, USA, 2022, Softcover, Illustrated (color/b&w), ISBN-13: 978-1733652643
Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, June 2022
The book is due to be published on 15 September – it can be pre-ordered now from the author
Destined to Fly : The Story of Pilot Ron Strauss - From Iowa to Elvis is the latest book by Sally Hoedel, author of the well received, Elvis: Destined to Die Young. It is the fascinating story of the pilot of the Lisa Marie jet, Ron Strauss.
Sally Hoedel was motivated to tell the Ron Strauss story as his name is not one that appears in many of the hundreds of Elvis biographies. Another of Elvis' pilots, Milo High, is arguably better known (his name ensures that) but he piloted the smaller, Jetstar plane, not the Lisa Marie, a large Convair 880.
(Right: Sally Hoedel with Ron Strauss, pilot of the Lisa Marie)
Ron Strauss was pilot for Elvis during a very busy period (1975-1977). Between 1975 and June 1977 Elvis played around 300 live shows, so he was regularly in the air.
The book opens with a neat poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken, symbolising the impact of our life choices – think of the sliding doors concept. More on this later.
The author is a seasoned writer, and her prose is magnetic, evoking potent images in the reader’s mind:
As I set out to write about Ron Strauss, my mind immediately went back to the first time we met. It was a mixture of both butterflies and excitement I felt that day. Meeting someone who actually knew Elvis Presley… how was that happening in Northern Michigan of all places.
Ms. Hoedel writes that she found Ron Strauss to be a ‘real, decent fine man - a man who himself was not a celebrity, but who experienced ‘some unconventional moments in life’. A recurring theme in the book is the numerous parallels in the lives of Ron and Elvis. These include Fonda, Idaho being Ron's "Tupelo", and that they both struggled at school.
The biography traverses a life far removed from what most of us experience. From his farming roots in rural Iowa to traveling the world with work, and being part of the Elvis Presley story, there is plenty for the reader to ponder, smile with, and feel for Ron Strauss.
Elvis wise, the book records how well the flight crew gelled with Elvis’ entourage and fans will particularly enjoy Ron’s account of first meeting Elvis, the rules Elvis set, and how his flights were organized. I suspect the accounts of various flights add previously unrecorded detail around Elvis’ travel movements. And I wonder how many fans are aware that before he owned his own airplanes, Hugh Hefner lent Elvis his airplane, known (not surprisingly) as Big Bunny? Big Bunny had everything including a disco!
Ron’s accounts of various flights with Elvis make for fascinating reading. For example, the time Ron asked if his wife Betty could accompany the group on Elvis’ holiday in Hawaii. Ron had calculated there were four open seats available, but Joe Esposito believed the flight was fully booked and Betty could not be given a seat. At take-off, Ron was correct and rightly pissed off. Someone informed Elvis of the situation and he insisted that Ron arrange a first-class flight for Betty to meet them in Hawaii. When Ron said that was not necessary, Elvis pressed the point by suggesting Ron would be replaced if he didn’t book the ticket. This incident highlights the honorable and caring nature of Elvis’ personality (and his wicked sense of humor).
There is also a fabulous Elvis-related story about Ron visiting his bank manager to obtain a home mortgage and the time Ron fell asleep in Elvis’ bed brings a smile to the reader’s face. Other interesting accounts include Ron’s reaction to Elvis carrying a loaded gun on board (in a pressurized cabin), and many readers will appreciate reading how Ron felt about Linda Thompson and Ginger Alden. There are also small tidbits of information like how much it cost to fill up the Lisa Marie in 1977 and who was its “real” captain.
The impact on the Strauss family of Ron being on-call 24-7 for Elvis is important to read. Ron also provides the full account (truth) about Elvis’ famous spur-of-the-moment flight to Denver to buy a sandwich.
The author’s discussion of Elvis’ approach to buying planes is illuminating (it was surprising to read of his turnover of leased planes before acquiring the Lisa Marie):
Elvis approached airplane shopping in the same way some women buy a new dress – take it home, try it on and return it the next day when it is a little tight in the hips or the color is not quite right.
Regarding Elvis’ acquisition of airplanes, Ron Strauss responded:
I don’t think they had anyone properly advising them on what was really needed. They didn’t know what the proper thing to do was.
Ron’s comments about the involvement of Joe Esposito and Lamar Fike in the airplane acquisition process are incisive. Destined to Fly also includes an account of how the seller of the Lisa Marie was later found guilty of defrauding Elvis out of $300,000 for plane repairs and improvements that were never made.
The author cogently makes the point that unlike in other areas of his life, at least with his airplanes, Elvis ensured he had highly capable and experienced flight personnel.
During the author's conversations with Ron Strauss, initially at his summer residence in a RV park in Northern Michigan, one theme that emerged 'was a portrait of Elvis a grown man, contributing in his own way as a boss and a leader of people around him.' Ms Hoedel writes:
Being a person of integrity himself, he (Ron) noticed the little things did for his staff and the big things that he certainly did not need to do but did anyway.
This theme is one I don’t recollect being expressed in other books, and if it has been, it is certainly not a common one...... but it is important as it highlights one part of Elvis' role that I suspect few have thought about.
Throughout the book there are nice moments of humor, such as a very funny account of the first time Elvis was in the cockpit of the Lisa Marie with Ron:
When Elvis was first in the cockpit, Elwood invited Elvis to sit in the jump seat for take off. Elwood turned to Ron and said, ‘You got the manual on how to start this thing?’…. Elvis appreciated the joke.
Another, amusing story, is the time an order was placed in Elvis’ name for 50 burgers and when they arrived to collect them, they found they hadn’t been made as the McDonald’s staff thought the call was a hoax.
Not surprisingly, Elvis’ death had a major impact on Ron and his family, and they relocated from Memphis to Michigan when Ron joined Evergreen International Airlines. His life continued to be storied. Ron comments:
I flew all over the world with Evergreen. The main trip was Detroit Metro to Vegas, but we would go to Acapulco too. One day I would be in Tokyo and the next in Europe.
With the Convair 880 being phased out, Ron had to upskill to fly both the DC-8 and 727, eventually being promoted to captain and then check captain (allowing him to train other pilots). Ron’s time with Evergreen would see him flying freight services and charters around the world for the United Parcel Service (USPS), the US military, and the CIA. When, due to mandatory rules, he was required to retire as a flight captain at age 55, he was not yet ready to give up being in the air, and for four years served as a flight engineer for USPS.
The depth of the author’s research is evident in this passage about why Ron Strauss was such a highly sought-after pilot:
Danny Clisham, crew member from Modern Air in Berlin, was one of the original six guys who were with Evergreen at the beginning of the airline around 1973. “At that level or niche of the airline business, your reputation is everything. So when they said, we’re going to hire, who do you know? Ron was at the top of the list of those we knew who were talented and very dependable,” recalled Danny……… “When you got a guy with an aviation maintenance background and a professional flight engineer background, they were the most valuable in the cockpit. He could fix a problem and sign off on it. He was so in tune with every system on the airplane as a trouble shooter, as a fixer, as detective and all to figure out why this or that was happening. With that kind of analytical mind in the cockpit, we had someone with a full and complete understanding of the aircraft, just so thorough.”
At the beginning of my review I mentioned that the book opens with Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken. In relation to what the poem meant for the life of Ron Strauss, Sally Hoedel records:
Of course, with that wisdom of age and experience, also comes honesty. In hindsight, it seems that Ron always made the right decision when it came to those Y’s of life. The fork in the road always took him to something better. “A big part of that was just luck,” he now admits. “I was just really lucky.” Take that luck and mix in a whole bunch of determination and hard work, then perhaps a bit of understanding might be found for just how this kid from Fonda, Iowa, who did not finish high school, still found a way to make his dream a reality.
When reading Destined To Fly, it is evident that the Ron Strauss story was inspired by his brother, Raymond, and bedrocked by his wife, Betty.
Betty, who had long battled with Crohn’s disease, sadly passed away in 2012. They had been married for 51 years, although Betty used to say they were married for 25 years as Ron was gone so much.
Today, Ron Strauss, “the world’s worst passenger” spends his time comforted by his Catholic faith, enjoying his family, and giving talks on his career and Elvis.
Beyond the Ron Stauss story, Destined To Fly also details the post Elvis life of the Lisa Marie jet and highlights, even after his death, how Elvis’ name and former property were exploited. The plane was part of a failed business venture, served time as a charter flight (the guests flown included Neil Diamond and representatives from the famous, and once highly profitable, cosmetics company, Revlon), at one point was a present for a wealthy Elvis fan, and after lying idle, eventually found its way home to Graceland.
The visual element in Destined to Fly is impressive. While there aren’t many images of Elvis (Ron’s biggest regret is not getting at least one photo of him with Elvis), there is a strong visual record of both the Strauss family and the Lisa Marie airplane. Historic images, including one of the main street in Fonda, Idaho, are an engaging element to the book.
Destined to Fly is not a voluminous book in terms of its page number, but it is a first-rate read, chock full of absorbing information about a person who has led a fascinating life – a person that Elvis trusted to keep him and his party safe in the air, and to get him to cities on time!
The book features two appendices which will intrigue many readers:
- Flight Log (detailed logs from the Lisa Marie jet)
- (Ron Strauss’) Contract with Elvis
Overall Verdict: With Destined To Fly, Sally Hoedel has written a wonderful tribute and record of Ron Stauss’ incredible life and one which adds appreciably to our knowledge of the Elvis Presley story. As Ms. Hoedel states, the Ron Strauss story is one that needs to be told, not just for his involvement with Elvis, but also for its rich (and entertaining) experience and adventure.
The book can be pre-ordered directly from the author:
Click here to 'Destined to Fly' website
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Book Review by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN June 2022
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
About the author: Sally A. Hoedel, a lifelong Elvis fan and historian, has a journalism degree from Michigan State University and is co-owner of Character Development and Leadership, a curriculum business. She lives in Northern Michigan with her husband and their four daughters.
(Book Review) Destined to Die Young (Sally Hoedel): Could Elvis’ death at the young age of 42 have been avoided? This question is answered in Sally Hoedel’s thought provoking book, Destined to Die Young.
The book is the result of exhaustive research by the author who found a key factor which was to affect Elvis throughout his life – one which meant that regardless of his diet and overuse of prescription medication, he was destined to die young. The narrative is full and colorful, and its depth of detail reflects the extent of research undertaken by the author.
In her introduction, the author establishes an important context for Elvis’ longevity (or lack of longevity) and health issues, this being his family tree.... Hoedel identifies the genetic disorder as Antitrypsin Deficiency, a condition which can result in lung and/or liver disease. In this respect, her discussion of the life and death of Gladys Presley is thought provoking..
Go here to read EIN Nigel Patterson's detailed review
(Book Review. Source: ElvisInformationNetwork)
Sally Hoedel (author of Destined to Die Young) talks to EIN: Elvis’ death at a young age could not have been prevented! Why did Elvis die so young?
This question is examined in Sally Hoedel’s new book, Destined to Die Young. Sally kindly agreed to take time out to speak with EIN’s Nigel Patterson about her research into the untold story of Elvis’ health struggles.
In her revealing interview, Sally discusses the key factors that affected Elvis’ life and health from pre-birth and how his lifestyle and overuse of prescription medication contributed to his premature death.
What Sally has to say challenges several commonly held beliefs about the causes of Elvis’ death!
Read the interview to learn more...
(Interview, Source: ElvisInformationNetwork)
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