Remembering Frank Protiva and Tom Moody

Flagstaff, AZ – Friday, January 23rd, two friends from Flagstaff died when their small plane crashed.

Frank Protiva and Tom Moody were engineers, pilots, and river runners. I talked to some of their many friends for this remembrance.

Guillermo Cortes, an engineer and Vice President at Frank Protiva's engineering firm, Shephard-Wesnitzer, met him about 12 years ago.

"We became friends right away," Cortes said. "He welcomed anybody in right away."

Cortes says that Protiva was a mentor to him and generous to everyone. Typical for Protiva was to lend you his truck, and leave some wine for the trip in it as well.

And Protiva radiated energy and enthusiasm.

"He operated at a whole different level of energy and speed than all of us," Cortes said. "Whether it was walking or anything we all just had to keep up. Just trying to keep up with Frank was a feat in itself."

Frank Protiva's excitement for the outdoors, and other people, was evident early on.

Dave Spellman met Protiva as a young 20-something.

"My father was lending him some river gear," Spellman said. "I remember Frank he had this red scraggly hair and a red scraggly beard, and this big Cheshire-cat grin just a big beautiful smile, and grinning from ear-to-ear, and excited about life."

Protiva lost the scraggliness and the beard, but not the energy and joy.

Tom Moody, did keep his river-guide pony-tail and beard through the years,
and had a similar demeanor to Protiva.

Christa Sadler knew Moody from the Grand Canyon River Guides organization.

"When I think of Tom, I always think of crinkly eyes," Sadler said. "He always had laughter around his eyes. And he had one of the best senses of humor. It was such a smart sense of humor. He just found humor in everything."

Dave Edwards, a photographer and former river guide agrees.

"And always that laugh," Edwards said. "He would laugh at disaster, and he would laugh at foibles, and he would laugh at success, and he seemed to have a perspective on things."

Bart Henderson was close to Moody for almost 40 years. He says Moody's perspective was that of someone who saw the big picture. And he thinks that relates to Moody's early and long association with airplanes.

"It struck me that perhaps that's part of where he got that big picture," Henderson said. " Is that he looked at the earth from an elevation that most of us don't."

Moody played an important role in the conception and passage of the federal Grand Canyon Protection Act, and he combined his love of rivers with his engineering career in a unique way.

Brad Dimock, another river-guide friend, says Moody's and his wife's firm, Natural Channel Design, aligns with Moody's big-picture thinking.

"You know, most engineers would think, Well, we'll build a concrete channel and we'll rip-rap it here, and we'll make the water go over there,'" Dimock said. " You know like Utah-model 'make the desert bloom.' With Tom it would be more like, 'let the desert bloom,' because that what it wants to do."

Frank Protiva's engineering style took into account the topography and natural features of the land as he designed developments.

William Ring, a land use attorney, worked closely with Protiva for two decades.

"When you take a look at a subdivision, you will see a swirl of streets," Ring said. "And those swirls of streets are like fingerprints. That's Frank's fingerprints: he designed those things; he laid them out; he engineered them so that they work. And, so, if you took an aerial survey of Flagstaff, you'd find Frank's fingerprints all over it. And that's perhaps his greatest legacy aside from his friendships is the imprint he made on the city of Flagstaff."

By all accounts, both men excelled as pilots, outdoorsman, engineers, and in their friendships.

If there was one thing that Tom Moody loved, and had yet to excel in it was music, says Bart Henderson.

Still, Henderson says, Moody had something there well worth listening to.

"You know, if he taught us nothin' else, that's a great lesson that we've learned from him," said Henderson. "Is that, it doesn't matter how busy you get and how much you got on your plate there's always time to stop and play a tune and sing a song . . . what was that one about Lefty? I gotta say that probably I never heard Tom sit down and play without playin' 'Pancho and Lefty.'"