Plastic surgeon T. Roderick Hester, M.D., has had a life-long love affair with flying. At age 64, he's planning his next great adventure: a trans-Atlantic flight in his prized twin-engine plane, Ole Blue Eyes. Growing up in the aftermath of World War II, Dr. Hester was enamored with the fighter planes he saw in old war movies. Even though he would build model airplanes and dabble in flying with his father, he was not getting his fill.
The more Dr. Hester, the first-born of seven children, leaned toward becoming a pilot, the more his mother insisted that he become a doctor. "She was very tough," Dr. Hester says. "She is the reason I can play the piano. She made me practice when other kids were out in the backyard. She put a lot of energy in me."
Dr. Hester admits to being interested in medicine as well. While he was in high school, he would go on house calls with a general practitioner in his hometown and watch the doctor perform surgery.
After graduating from Emory University School of Medicine, Dr. Hester's career in medicine, at first, curtailed his flying until he opened his first practice, in general surgery, in Moultrie, Ga. It also just happened to have a "nice airport."
Dr. Hester befriended Scott Fitzgerald, a World War II pilot who would ferry bombers across the Atlantic. Fitzgerald, who had since become a flying instructor, took Dr. Hester under his wing and was determined to teach him everything he had to know about safe flying.
Little did the plastic surgeon know how much he would rely on those life-saving maneuvers.
A proud owner
Dr. Hester bought his first plane, a single-engine Piper, and started flying every time he got the chance — to football games, professional meetings and more.
But he soon realized what some people say about pilots and their airplanes, "that you always want one that will fly a little higher and a little faster," he says.
The late '70s also brought another revelation. Dr. Hester realized that he no longer wanted to send mastectomy patients off to other surgeons. He wanted to pursue plastic surgery and see patients through the reconstructive and cosmetic processes. So, off to Emory he went, again.
Today, Dr. Hester practices at Pace Plastic Surgery and Recovery Center in Atlanta and is chief of plastic surgery at the division of plastic surgery at Emory University School of Medicine. He has published extensively and he also teaches, lectures and participates on panels — which also happen to give him the opportunity to fly.
He bought his second airplane, a Beech Bonanza Craft, and flew it to professional meetings. Yet bigger and faster remained in the back of Dr. Hester's mind. So, he decided to purchase a plane he named Ole Blue Eyes for his father, T. Roderick Hester, Sr.
"It is a special airplane because it is pressurized and turbo-charged, so you can go up to 25,000 feet. I bought that airplane about eight years ago and now I really fly all over," he says. "I have a map of North America in my office, and I have these red, white and blue pins in all the places I have landed. There are only three states (in which) I have not landed: Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Dakota. I have to find an excuse to land in those states."
Refreshing for the mind
Dr. Hester seems to get into another place, mentally, when he talks about flying.
"I have had some interesting, long, wonderful flights. I love to get up to 20,000 feet and I tell you it really refreshes your mind. I like the hum of the engine. Flying was the right thing for me," he says.