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High-flying family pursues passion in planes

Two generations spend careers in the skies

POSTED: February 16, 2014 1:15 a.m.

Every family has its own unique passions.

Some families enjoy sports together while others prefer gardening or working on antique cars.

The Hill family of Gainesville is no different. Each of the four members prefers to spend his or her time in the air. However, all four — Lonnie and Miriam and their two sons, Marc and Michael — have made careers out of it.

Lonnie Hill is a pilot. His wife, Miriam, is a flight attendant.

A couple’s beginning

As a pilot in the 1970s, Lonnie Hill said he knew he wanted to marry someone “in the industry.” He said he knew someone who wasn’t involved in aviation wouldn’t understand the long hours he is required to work and might become resentful of the constant travel. Luckily for him, he met Miriam, his wife of 35 years.

The couple’s first encounter was on a blind date in Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. Lonnie was a pilot for a commuter airline and Miriam was a flight attendant. Not long after they started dating, Miriam was transferred to a job in Atlanta.

“He followed me,” Miriam said.

“No,” Lonnie said. “I chased her.”

The couple married in a Spanish ceremony at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in Puerto Rico.

Lonnie, who now works as a captain for Fed Ex, occasionally stays in the hotel where they were married when his route takes him to the island. He will retire in September when he turns 65, the maximum age a pilot can work. Miriam, who is two weeks older than Lonnie, will continue working after her husband retires.

Lonnie said it’s fun to remember his wedding day when he stays at the hotel.

“It was a busy day, I remember that,” Lonnie said. “We had to fly out the next day.”

Connecting flights with family

The couple’s life together has remained busy ever since.

Between juggling careers and raising their two sons, Marc and Michael, the family learned to make the most of its time together.

“We had to be open to changes,” Miriam said. “There was never that pressure of the schedule thing.”

Depending on their schedules, family members would celebrate holidays whenever each was home, not necessarily on the specific date.

“We just dealt with it. It wasn’t a 9-to-5, 40-hour-a-week job,” Lonnie said, “where you work eight hours and you’re home. That’s where a lot of people say ‘well, you only work 80 hours a month.’ But that’s our pay rate. It’s 80 hours a month, but I work about 12-18, 24-hour days a month.”

The couple tried different methods of scheduling their lives over the years, including trying to work opposite shifts so one parent was always home with their sons or hiring a nanny for the times both worked.

Their oldest son, Marc, said growing up in his family was unique.

“I would say our lives were somewhat different with our parents not being there day to day,” the 34-year-old said. “But the best part was when they were home, they were home. They were always there.”

Advantages of airtime

Having a pilot in the family also provided other perks as well.

Lonnie purchased a small private plane for the family to use on vacations, allowing the family to fly to its destinations relatively quickly and cheaply.

“We could leave Gainesville airport and 10 hours later be in Bryce Canyon and be horseback riding and camping,” Lonnie said.

Their youngest son, Michael, said the family trips proved useful in school because it gave him firsthand knowledge of locations he studied in class.

Michael, 27, said he always enjoyed hearing his parents talk about their jobs, because when they returned home they always had stories to share. While working in the first-class section on a plane, Miriam met several actors, including Helen Hunt, Sylvester Stallone and Sean Penn. And Lonnie has flown airplanes loaded with everything from hundreds of Cambodian refugees to whales, sharks and herds of cattle.

“I liked hearing their stories about the fun things they’d done,” Michael said. “My dad has some interesting stories, interesting cargo and situations and how he handled it.”

Parental influence

Lonnie and Miriam’s stories and passion for the air apparently rubbed off on both of their sons. Michael is a lieutenant junior grade naval flight officer stationed in Hawaii. Marc works as a private pilot for A-list country music artists in Nashville.

Marc said growing up in the cockpit of his father’s plane and listening to his parents’ stories inspired a deep love of aviation in himself and his brother.

“All of our careers are aviation driven, that’s pretty neat to say,” Marc said.

Michael said he’s glad his parents inspired him to follow in their footsteps.

“This career is an opportunity to go out and see the world,” Michael said, laughing. “I get to do a job that doesn’t have an office desk.”


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