Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat-“He was a King who loved and respected his people, and worked for their sake, in addition to [believing in] transparency, which is a basic and simple philosophy that has brought the Saudi state to where it is today, and made him [King Abdulaziz] the greatest man of all ages.”
This is how Captain Joseph Grant remembers King Abdulaziz Bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud, may his soul rest in peace. Captain Grant was King Abdulaziz’s pilot, and served in this position for two full years after President Roosevelt gifted the founder of Saudi Arabia with a Douglas DC3 plane during a meeting aboard a warship in the Suez Canal following the end of World War II in 1945.
Joseph Grant is now 101 years old, and although his face is not devoid of wrinkles, he has the same smile as he had when he began his flight career in the 1930s when he flew for some of the world’s most important figures, including the President of Iceland and a number of important figures in Washington. Yet Captain Grant considers the period of time that he worked for King Abdulaziz as the time that he learnt the most.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Captain Grant reveals that “I would always see him [King Abdulaziz] giving out gifts and material aid to those around him regardless of social class. When I returned home he presented me with a bag full of gifts, and having learned from him the inherent Arab generosity I gave out the contents of the bag to my boss…and my colleagues in the US.”
Grant also told Asharq Al-Awsat that he felt sad when leaving Saudi Arabia, especially since he left behind a number of his Saudi Arabian friends. Grant told Asharq Al-Awsat that he often thinks about the time that he spent in Saudi Arabia.
Captain Grant still remembers the first time that he flew King Abdulaziz in the Douglass DC3 jet, between Riyadh and Jeddah. Grant does not remember the exact duration of the flight, but says that it took at least three hours.
Since Captain Grant was diligent at his job and enjoyed working in Saudi Arabia, he never tried to discover the identity of the figures accompanying King Abdulaziz on his trips. Grant said “The King would host some leaders aboard his jet which was equipped with furniture made from the finest wood which was very rare at that time”
Captain Grant also clarified to Asharq Al-Awsat that the jet was equipped with the most sophisticated flight equipment at the time, although now such equipment would be considered rudimentary. In fact Captain Grant reveals that occasionally he was required to navigate via the stars.
Grant said “I love flying; I used to think it was my whole life. I think this [love] has been genetically transferred to my son Edward, who began flying at thirteen.”
Captain Grant has only visited Saudi Arabia twice following the death of King Abdulaziz. Although his recent presence in Saudi Arabia was as a result of him being granted an audience with King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz.
King Abdulaziz’s pilot did not hide his admiration for the Saudi abaya, which his wife is also a fan of. In fact his daughter Tracey, who accompanied her father on his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, wore her mother’s abaya which had been a gift from him.
Captain Joseph Grant is considered to be one of the pilots to have played a major role in establishment Saudi Arabian Airlines, especially with regards the training of its pilots. Captain Grant also played a role in strengthening relations between Saudi Arabia and the US.
Captain Grant was recently awarded the King Abdulaziz medal –First Class by Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel Bin Ahmed al-Jubeir on behalf of King Abdullah in the Saudi embassy in Washington.
Ambassador al-Jubeir commended Captain Grant as being one of the pioneers to have flown in Saudi Arabia, and thanked him for his contribution to fostering Saudi – US relations. Captain Grant expressed his thanks for the award, and praised both King Abdul-Aziz and President Roosevelt. He said “His Majesty King Abdulaziz was one of the greatest men.”