From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

The Homecoming

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

William Shakespeare

“I want to go home. I just want to go home,” Gus Webb whispered in a barely audible voice from his hospital bed in Roswell, Georgia.

For twenty-nine years, Gus Webb worked at Alaska Airlines. As an operations agent, his familiar voice was often the first and last heard by pilots as he brought them in and out of Anchorage.

Just months after retiring, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His doctors sent him to a hospital in Roswell for specialized treatment. But within a few months, his prognosis changed from one of hope to one of a life expectancy measured in hours.

His wife Marie was at his bedside, as well as Steve Carlisle, one of the many Alaska employees who had traveled to Georgia to offer assistance and support. “He’s still alive,” Marie said, “because he so terribly wishes to be in Alaska.”

Carlisle decided to find a way to bring him home. He called Roxanne Forbes, Alaska’s assistant vice president of customer service. “If a special medically-equipped airplane could be found, would Alaska Airlines front him the money for the flight to Anchorage?” He promised to do enough fundraisers to pay it back.

A collaboration of caring began to mobilize. ERA Aviation President, Jim VandeVoorde, donated a Medivac airplane. Providence Hospital’s lifeguard program in Anchorage arranged for medical personnel at cost. That left fuel, the medical staff and the flight crew’s wages to be covered. That is until Ed White, vice president of customer service, quickly decided Alaska Airlines would foot the bill. Marie convinced the doctors it was worth the risk, even though Gus might not survive the flight.

Less than twenty-four hours later, Gus’s Lear jet departed Roswell—destination Anchorage. Even in flight, the miracle continued. While he was in and out of consciousness, he heard voices of encouragement. “We’re here with you.” “Hang in there, Gus.” As his airplane entered their radio range, calls came from airports along the way. From the air, pilots and crew members, who had been served so many times by Gus, were now escorting him on his last flight.

And the caring continued. As the plane landed in Anchorage, Gus woke up and looked out the window to see scores of pilots, flight attendants and other Alaska employees lining the tarmac to welcome him home.

He defied the medical experts. Not only was he alive, but he was filled with an almost miraculous surge of energy and clarity. In the next three weeks, well over a hundred people from all over the state bid him a final farewell. When Gus was complete, he passed away surrounded by family and friends in his beloved Alaska.

Gus gave to all of Alaska Airlines a gift—the opportunity once again to live our values. Words like “caring,” “Alaska spirit,” “can-do attitude” and “doing the right thing,” took on a little more meaning. Thank you, Gus, and Godspeed.

Jacquie Witherrite

More stories from our partners