Monday, May 26, 2008

Peace at last for family twice-cursed

Was it coincidence, or in the stars? Random happenstance, or preordained by a destiny man can scarcely comprehend?


The first person to die in an airplane crash in Bay County was the son of the first county resident killed in an automobile accident.

It's a cosmic coincidence eerie enough to make one cluck a tongue in wonder. I know I did, some 15 years ago when I first encountered this bizarre tale.

In 1986 I was researching newspaper microfilm when a headline from Feb. 11, 1939 grabbed my attention. Aspiring pilot Mitchell Wilcox, 27, was killed when his plane nose-dived to the ground at the Panama City airport. This was Bay County's first fatal air crash.

Twenty-five years earlier, Mitchell's father R.W.Wilcox had been struck and killed by a car. R.W. Wilcox was Bay County's first automobile fatality.

I mentioned my fascination with this story to a staff writer for the Panama City News Herald and we decided to dig deeper. Forty-seven years had passed since Mitchell Wilcox's death. Still, his obituary provided us with a list of surviving realtives. A phone call to a nephew revealed Mitchell had a brother named Rod.

We discovered that Rod had no phone and spent most of his time cruising the rustic fisherman's bars that dotted the aging St. Andrews marina. So the writer and I hit the bars. We found him.

"My Daddy was crossing the street," he told us between sips of beer, "and was hit by the first dang car in the county--a Star car, it was called. Daddy was a shipbuilder and the best dang fiddler in the county." The driver of the car, we were told, was a local physician so shaken he vowed never to drive again, and thereafter made his rounds on horseback.

Rod spoke too of his brother's love for flying, and how Mitchell had volunteered to fly the mail from Panama City to Pensacola. "He told Mother, 'I'm going to take up flying.' She said, "Mitchell, that's going to be your undoing.' "

When Rod described sitting through the night at A.H. "Doc" Lisenby's office, where Mitchell was taken after the crash, we hardly knew what to say.

Not long ago I tried to reconnect with Rod. A relative informed me that Rod--last of the Wilcoxes--had since passed away.

Peace at last, I thought, for this family twice cursed by man's endless desire to move faster, and to fly higher.

--Ken Brooks
Panama City News Herald, Jan. 5, 2000

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