Pilgrim ’84 grad flies celebrities, fosters dogs

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Lonnie King used to spend his days at Pilgrim as a wrestler, soccer player and track star, but now the Texas resident’s time is spent in the sky and with loads of four-legged “children.”

After he graduated from Pilgrim, King went to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Long Island. He spent eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps flying C-130 aircraft, then moved on to work for Value Jet. But later, he found Flexjet, where he has now been for almost 20 years.

“I walked in with a résumé and suit in hand. They told me to go home and pack a bag,” he said of the time he applied to work for the company. “They took me out to Tucson for a flight simulator that night and hired me on the spot.”

With Flexjet, a private aviation company, King flies a Gulfstream 450, the technology of which he compares to “a big video game.” The company has six of these $45 million planes, and out of 900 pilots King got chosen to fly one.

“It’s very, very complex,” he said. “It’s a new challenge for me.”

The luxurious planes can make long nonstop trips, a recent one for King being Paris to Charlotte, North Carolina. These trips take about nine hours and transport between six and eight people, though the planes can hold 16 passengers.

The guests he flies are wealthy and often high profile – King has flown celebrities, sports stars and CEOs to their destinations. By contract he’s not permitted to disclose their names. But their wealth doesn’t always taint their personalities – King said he’s been offered trips home rather than fly commercial by some of his passengers.

It sounds like a hectic life, but King said he does have a set schedule.

“One day I could be just going to Hawaii for a day and coming back, or I could be doing up to five legs a day. They utilize the planes very efficiently,” he said.

When he’s not flying, King has another happy endeavor, that of fostering rescue dogs through DFW Rescue Me in Texas. He and his husband, Darrell, are currently fostering six dogs, one of which he brought into the Beacon office on Friday. A tiny miniature dachshund named Riley squirmed around in her carrier and on King’s lap while he spoke to us.

He remembered one of the first dogs he met, a terrier who had to be kept in a covered cage away from other dogs. He had the dog brought to his house, and the first thing it did was bite him. But within 15 minutes, the dog was rolling around on the floor and playing happily, proving she just needed a little love.

“For the first 18 months of her life she had never set foot on the ground,” King said. “She’d been in a cage as a breeding dog. She was very antisocial and aggressive, but she’s become one of the sweetest little dogs in the world.”

King also works with the Justice Fund through DFW Rescue Me, which he said has helped legislation in Texas that changed animal abuse from a misdemeanor to a felony. He works on the “Dinner for Justice,” a dinner event named after a dog that passed away due to injuries from abuse.

This year’s dinner raised $100,000 for animals in need, and their fundraising efforts don’t end there. The Rescue also has a huge event at the state fair where they adopt out over 100 dogs and raise another $30,000 to $40,000 over a three-week period, King said.

Though his life is now in many different places, King has not forgotten his childhood in Rhode Island. He has fond memories of his time playing sports at Pilgrim and still relishes the friendships he made.

“I grew up with people that I still keep in touch with,” he said. “It’s one of those little homegrown states where everyone knows everyone.”

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