Monday, December 18, 2017

Former pilot Brad Herriott remembered as fun-loving, friendly

Brad Herriott had a "village" of family and friends who loved and appreciated his larger-than-life personality, warm heart and ready smile. 

His village, with endless stories to tell about his humor and kindness, is feeling lost without him.

Herriott, a Naples Realtor and former pilot, died December 11 from a rare, aggressive cancer. He was 46.  

Even through his years-long struggle with cancer, he found ways to make others laugh, with his magic tricks and pranks, including patients and doctors he met during his treatments over the past few years.

One of those pranks was to put life-like bugs in surprising places. Brother Billy Herriott, who lives in Illinois, recalls how Brad slipped a cockroach in a bandage before a follow-up visit to his oncologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.

"The surgeon was like, 'Whoa, that shouldn't be there,' " Billy said with a laugh.

There are so many funny stories to tell about Brad, like the time he tied a rope to Billy's belt loop when he was 5 or 6 years old so he could hoist his little brother up a tree at the family farm in Seymour, Illinois. The two ended up dangling in mid-air.  

We were three to four feet off the ground, blaming each other," Billy recalled.

They stayed there until their younger brother discovered them and their mom came to the rescue.

Brad's father, Bill Herriott, also a pilot, remembers flying with his son when he was a teen and buzzing a nearby house more than a few times as a joke to shake a friend out of his house. 

"We had great times in the airplane," his father said.

As a child, Brad loved airplanes. After mastering a Piper Cherokee when he was 14, he earned his pilot's license at 15.

In high school, Brad played the trombone in the marching band and jazz band. In college, he joined the Marching Illini Band at the University of Illinois.

"He was a problem-solver. He was very creative with whatever he did. He was very musical growing up," said his brother Ben, who lives in Illinois.

Brad was a broker associate at NOCO, a no-commission, full-service real estate agency in Naples. 

Friend Ken Thomas, who lives in Naples, offered this funny story: Brad once listed a neighbor's property, although the neighbor was a Realtor himself, after convincing him he could use the help. Brad could be very convincing that way.

"He was truly a positive person with an unbreakable spirit," Thomas said.

After earning various aeronautic certificates at the University of Illinois School of Aviation, Brad graduated with a bachelor's degree from Eastern Illinois University in 1993. 

He worked as a flight instructor in Champaign, Illinois, before realizing his dream of becoming a professional pilot in 1995. He was one of the youngest airline captains in the history of United Airlines.

In 2001, Brad received a "Safety First Award" and other recognition for preventing a runway accident that involved his airplane. He averted a crash when he noticed the other pilot taking off too soon, putting the two planes on a collision course. 

"Both planes took off at the same time. He jerked the airplane in the air and the other one went underneath," his father said proudly.  

Brad had a way of lighting up a room. He made everyone feel like his best friend. He was a devoted husband and father to a son and three daughters. 

His foster daughter, Dania Padilla, 18, said she'll never forget the first day she met Brad, when he and his wife, Nathalie, rescued her from a group home. 

"Since the first day, he called me daughter and he told me how proud he was to have me in his family," Padilla said. "Every day he told me to do my best." 

Stepdaughter Kaeli Smashey, 20, who attends Broward College in Fort Lauderdale and plays tennis there, said her father was always supportive and proud, buying her first tennis racquets. 

"Even through the cancer, he always found a way to make me smile," she said. "He always made me feel better about everything. Even when he was sick, even in the hospital, he was making everyone laugh." 

Brad met his South American wife in Miami in 1999. They moved to Naples in 2008, opening their doors to foster children. Friends and family say the couple still giggled and carried on like "honeymooners," hugging and kissing each other and sitting close when they were at home on the couch, even when there were visitors. 

Brad and Nathalie threw some big parties at their home, which often included dancing. For several years, they hosted a neighborhood Halloween party for 300 to 400. They once had a "redneck party," with a mechanical bull and baby chicks. 

For Thanksgiving and Christmas, Brad often did the cooking for family and friends. 

Those who knew Brad the best say he'll be remembered most for the joy he spread wherever he went. 

Brad was diagnosed with cancer after finding a lump the size of a quarter on his left thigh in 2015. His tumor was a rare one, a high-grade sarcoma. He sought the best treatments, participating in clinical trials, but eventually the disease spread to his lungs.

Besides his wife and children, parents, Bill and Barb, and three brothers, Brad is survived by his three half-siblings, his in-laws, a nephew and three nieces.

A memorial service was held Saturday at First Baptist Church in North Naples. Brad asked that attendees wear white or other light and happy colors. Hundreds turned out to say their goodbyes.

Brad's last words for his family and friends were to take care of each other.

"He wanted everybody to be happy," Billy Herriott said. "I think that was his main wish for his family — and to do their best." 

The family requested that In lieu of flowers, donations be made to Friends of Foster Children Forever in Naples, which provides health insurance, school supplies, tutoring and pocket money to foster children in the area. 

Story and photos ➤ http://www.naplesnews.com

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