Caroline Broad nominated Pat Pearce as a #leadinglight more than 3 months ago. “I have just spoken to Pat Pearce – who founded and has been running Dreamflight. My best friend is involved in the charity and tells me all the time what a special lady she is and what extraordinary things she has been able to achieve. However, she is away in Australia for 3 months and then coming back on the QE2 (she’s giving talks on the boat).” Less than 2 weeks after her return we spoke – it was worth the wait!
Bio – Pat grew up near Heathrow airport and at the age of 9 looked up at the planes overhead and said “I am going to be an Air Hostess.” True to her word, Pat joined BOAC (now British Airways) as a secretary until she was old enough to fly. For 39 years Pat travelled the world as a Cabin Director and spent 2 months in 1974 on the Queen’s Flight. In 1984 Pat and other BA cabin crew members in 5 locations raised enough money to charter a 747 jumbo jet from Heathrow and other aircraft from around the UK to fly underprivileged children to the Disney World Road Show at the Birmingham NEC. They filled the venue with 600+ children – some in wheelchairs – to experience a Christmas they would never forget. Celebrating the success of the roadshow in the canteen afterwards with her colleagues, Pat found herself declaring after a few too many glasses of wine that she would organise a flight to Disney World itself the following year! Dreamflight was born. For 29 years Pat and a small team have raised enough money every year to fly 192 seriously ill and disabled children to Disney World with a team of volunteer doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and helpers on-board. After 40 years’ service with BA, Pat “retired” aged 60 to work fulltime on Dreamflight. Now aged 70, she has authored a book on her flying career and the founding of the charity and gives lectures on the QE 2 and to the WI in addition to running the charity.
Why I agree with Caroline Broad’s nomination of Pat as a #leadinglight:
- “I have been so lucky in my career” is Pat’s perception of the experiences and opportunities she had had. I have never spoken to someone so driven – Pat is an example of how to make your luck. From the 9 year old vowing to become an Air Hostess, to her extraordinary commitment whilst flying long-haul flights to improve the lives of children by singlehandedly raising funds and arranging logistics for Dreamflight for 7 years. She often got only 4 hours sleep. Her days back home were spent replying to an answerphone full of messages and using a typewriter as it was pre internet to confirm arrangements. Eventually she took on a part-time secretary (which grew to 4 fulltime staff) as she couldn’t get back to people quickly enough.
- The impact Pat and Dreamflight has had on children is priceless. The intention of giving children with a bad start in life a treat also gives them self-confidence and teaches them not to be ashamed of their disability as they are not the odd one out. On a flight back from the Beijing Olympics in 2008, one of the passengers recognised a member of the cabin crew from a Dreamflight she took when she was a child. It turned out that 6 members of the Olympic team on board that day were Dreamflight children. The most well-known was Liz Johnson, the Paralympic Swimmer who won gold that year.
- Pat’s optimism and selflessness. 10 years ago, she was treated for cancer and had to miss that year’s Dreamflight as she was having chemotherapy. She uses her experience to support the teenage girls she meets going through cancer treatment, especially hair loss, often cracking a joke about “bad hair days” that makes them smile.
- Her “what next” attitude. Apart from becoming an author, public speaker and lecturer aged 70, Pat is floating an idea with her trustees to use any excess money they receive each year to set up a trust fund for past Dreamflight children who need help with training or equipment etc. She appointed a Director 18 months ago to run Dreamflight day to day to ensure the continuity of the work she has been doing for 29 years.
People who inspire Pat: she has the biggest charity database of volunteers and is inspired by their enthusiasm and the amazing things they do to raise money. Seeing what a difference the annual trip makes to not just the children, but their parents who can’t believe the difference in their children makes it all worthwhile. She also loves the fact that some of the adults who have come on Dreamflight as escorts, have changed their careers to work with children.
Patricia’s nominations for career attributes for the future: help people and children to achieve their dreams, encourage people to believe in themselves, set goals and aim to achieve those goals for yourself.