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Tanner’s Luke Pryor was quiet man, pilot, farmer

By Holly Hollman· 340-2445

TANNER — He never ballyhooed his good deeds or accomplishments.

He talked with a calm and quiet voice.

And Luke Pryor never put IV at the end of his name because he once said that “seems too pretentious.”

Yet, Pryor commanded respect, trained pilots who fought in World War II and farmed on land his family has owned since the 1800s.

That’s how Clay Smith, owner of Decatur-Athens Aero Service, remembers Pryor, 86, who died Sunday.

During World War II, Pryor and his brother, Schuyler, taught at the Southern Aviation Training School at what is now Pryor Field Regional Airport.

Smith said even after Schuy-ler Pryor died during a midair collision with a student, Luke Pryor didn’t “cease his dedication to flying.” He continued training pilots until the school closed.

Pryor once told a reporter “Everybody wanted to do their part. Back then, we put up with inconveniences and shortages, and we didn’t mind a bit.”

Smith met Pryor when Smith’s uncle worked for the Pryor family.

“He was very gracious, even as a teenager,” Smith said. “He dedicated his life to looking after the estate.”

The family grew cotton, wheat, corn and soybeans at Tanner, Smith said.

“He was always a half step ahead,” Smith said. “He was one of the early ones to rotate crops.”

Pryor was a former president of the Alabama Chapter of Flying Farmers, combining his love of farming and flying.

“Even after the war, he owned planes and kept flying until he was in his late 60s or early 70s,” Smith said. “Up until a couple of years ago, even when he was too fragile to walk, he would have someone drive him up here (Pryor Field) to visit with us.”

Pryor was one of the last living members of the Eagles of Tanner, a group Smith helped create that was comprised of the employees of the World War II flight school.

The group started with 35 to 40 members. A 15-year-old photo at Decatur-Athens Aero Service shows 11 members left, including Pryor and Smith.

“Today, I’m the only one I know of that’s living now that Luke is gone,” Smith said. “There’s one guy I’m not sure about, but I know we’ve lost three now in about a year’s time.”

Smith said many in North Alabama will miss “this very quiet man.”

Pryor was a 1938 graduate of Decatur High and 1942 graduate of The University of Alabama. A scholarship at Calhoun Community College bears his name, and he served on the Decatur Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis Club.

“It was like him to be involved in the community and to be the first to help out someone,” Smith said.

When a Daily reporter told Smith she met Pryor only once, when Pryor insisted she park her car at his home while she rode a wagon train from Tanner to Piney Chapel, Smith smiled.

“See, that personifies who Luke was,” Smith said. “He was a friend to all and easygoing. The folks he has helped, the only ones who would know about it would have been Luke and those who received his kindness, because Luke wouldn’t have bragged about it.”

The funeral is Thursday at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian in Decatur.

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