Retired FedEx Pilots Builds Cars to Help Save Lives

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
The Shelby Cobra built for the 2018 Gold Tournament Auction in front of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

After a career in the skies, Capt. Bob McKee (FedEx Express, Ret.) is directing much of his attention these days toward more earthly pursuits—namely cars. And in conjunction with the 2019 World Golf Championship–FedEx St. Jude Invitational, which takes place in Memphis, Tenn., on July 24–28, he’ll once again auction off a classic roadster to raise money for a world-renowned charity.

For the fourth time in the last five years, McKee and his wife, Cindy, are spearheading a car-building auction featuring a replica of a 1965 Shelby Cobra. McKee and a team of FedEx Express pilots will assemble the car and display it at several prominent locations around the city before it’s sold at the Gala Pairings Dinner and Charity Auction at FedExForum on July 23. All proceeds will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “It’s a lot of fun and a truly remarkable organization to support,” said McKee.

The retired B-767 pilot came up with the idea in 2014 on the way home from training. Waiting to catch a flight, he met Ken Aagaard, then an executive vice president of CBS Sports who had attended the tournament and had a daughter undergoing brainstem cancer treatment at the hospital. Fortunately, her cancer was in remission and she’d soon be released.

The two talked about St. Jude’s legacy and how the hospital covers the cost of treatment, travel, housing, and food for patients and their families. Founded by actor Danny Thomas in 1962, the hospital focuses on children’s catastrophic diseases, particularly leukemia and other cancers, and costs approximately $2.8 million per day to run.

They later toured the facility together, contemplating ways they might help support it. McKee noted that he had always enjoyed building cars in his spare time, and Aagaard said that he could coordinate some on-air coverage of the car build during next year’s tournament—and an idea was born.

McKee contacted Factory Five Racing for a basic kit and other auto-parts manufacturers. When these companies heard what he was proposing, many were happy to donate their goods. McKee then put together an assembly team, including FedEx Express pilots Capt. Eric Armstrong (Council 26 secretary-treasurer), Capt. Mike Bray, and others (the makeup of the team varies from year to year).

The first two car builds were conducted just off the 18th green while the tournament was taking place. “Our pilots were under a tent, assembling this car from a basic frame all the way to the completed project,” said McKee. Because the event only lasted four days, he divulged that the team constructed the vehicle in advance, took it apart, and essentially reassembled it on the golf course. More than 3,000 holes were predrilled, and the group needed to account for every bolt and washer before they headed to the country club. McKee noted that “because of the location, lots of people stopped by to watch what we were doing and talk with us.”

Capt. Bob McKee (FedEx Express, Ret.) in the cockpit of a B-767 before his retirement in December 2017.

The FedEx Express pilot team attended the 2015 tournament but missed the event the following year. However, team members have constructed a car for every event since 2016. “This will be the fourth Shelby Cobra we’ve built; and for the first three, we raised a little over a quarter of a million dollars,” McKee pointed out.

Last year, the structure of the tournament and its name changed, compelling the team to build the Cobra off the golf course grounds. They’ve relocated to a nearby warehouse, and this year’s group includes McKee, Armstrong, Bray, Capt. Shon Driscoll, plus Tony Zullo and Ron Everitt from Factory Five Racing who are assisting the pilots.

McKee, who retired from FedEx Express in December 2017, observed that the bulk of funding for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital comes from personal donations. Learn more about the hospital or make a donation.

This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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