Friday, April 9, 2010


I've recently been reading some studies that emphasize the positive effects that volunteering has on the retired population. One study I found especially interesting noted the relationship between volunteering and depression. Kim and Pai, in their article "Volunteering and Trajectories of Depression" published in the Journal of Aging and Health, found that "volunteering affects the decline of depression for individuals above the age of 65." Now, I didn't have to read this article to know this because Grammy's been telling me that forever!
Maybe Grammy is just over-zealous, but she is a perfect example of how volunteering can improve a life. If there was an award for the Best Volunteer of the Century, I think my grammy would probably receive it. And, consequently, Papa would also receive it because whatever Grammy volunteers for, Papa also gets to do. He pretends like he doesn't like it, but I know he secretly does...And so does Jim Bevier. In the spirit of retirement, Grammy got me a subscription to Reader's Digest and amongst articles about shark attacks and saving money, I found this inspirational article:

Best of America: He Delivers to the Blind

In his spare time, this former FedEx pilot helps distribute cures for blindness around the globe.


You might think Jim Bevier—newly retired and finally kicking back after a harrowing hurricane season—would be content on his Mississippi horse ranch, teaching his grandkids to ride. But this 62-year-old former FedEx pilot has another passion. Bevier is a volunteer pilot for Orbis, a nonprofit that has fought blindness in developing countries for more than 25 years (

One of its weapons is the Flying Eye Hospital, a converted DC-10 aircraft that houses a state-of-the-art surgical and teaching facility. Bevier's mission is to land this giant sight-saving bird (as patients have described it) on runways that are most definitely not designed for it.

Jim Bevier
Photographed by Wyatt McSpadden
Jim Bevier pilots the Flying Eye Hospital.
"It's not like flying for FedEx," says Bevier. "We have to make sure the runway is long enough, get diplomatic clearances, figure out the fuel load, and find the safest place to park in case of a political coup."

Once he gets the hospital to its destination, it becomes a place for local doctors to get ophthalmologic training so they can treat conditions like glaucoma and cataracts and prevent blindness for thousands of people.

The plane stays on location for weeks, and while Bevier is free to return home, he likes to stay and meet those who arrive for screenings. Many walk on dirt roads for miles; many are blind children.

"I've seen them get on the airplane and come out the next day and they can see," Bevier says. The volunteer doctors can't handle all the patients. A Vietnamese boy who had made Bevier a paper airplane was turned away. "A pilot's job involves hours and hours of boredom and the occasional few seconds of stark terror. So you learn to keep your emotions in check. But when he didn't get picked, I broke down," he admits.

Challenging as the gig may be, Bevier isn't looking to retire anytime soon. "I don't golf, I don't have a recliner, and I tell my kids not to ever buy me those Velcro tennis shoes," he says. "You beat your body up getting there and back," he says of the Orbis flights, which can span 30 hours. "But I think of my grandchildren back home, and all I want is for those kids to be able to see their own grandparents for the first time."

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