He’s a decorated war veteran… a champion of racial equality… an accomplished author and motivational speaker… a devoted husband, father and grandfather… and a faith-filled follower of Jesus Christ.
He’s Richard “Dick” Toliver, a Pinnacle Forum Partner in Phoenix with a heart for “helping others come to know God as I’ve been blessed to know Him.”
And at the age of 78, the retired Top Gun pilot and Air Force colonel believes there’s important work still to be done.
“I believe the outcome of the recent presidential election is God’s signal for America to get its house in order” – an assessment that is spot on with Pinnacle Forum’s mission of ”personal and cultural transformation that honors Jesus Christ” and its Four “E” Strategy of encouraging, equipping, engaging and executing on one’s God-given calling.
As a young African-American growing up in Louisiana, Dick knew first-hand what it was for things to be out of order. As a product of a broken home, extreme poverty and oppressive racial segregation, his life was anything but easy. But he persevered, and his strong resolve, excellent work ethic and superb leadership qualities earned him an unprecedented college scholarship to Tuskegee Institute – unprecedented in that it was given by a white benefactor in the segregated South.
During college he met and was mentored by three special men, all of them having served with distinction in World War II as Tuskegee Airmen, the first black aviators in the U.S. armed forces. Dick was so inspired by their courage and devotion to their country and their families that he followed in their footsteps and joined the Air Force after graduation.
For 26 years he served his country – including completing two tours in Southeast Asia, flying 446 combat missions and amassing some 4,000 hours in the cockpit – before retiring in 1989 as a colonel.
Those years in the Air Force brought Dick a host of awards and honors, among them the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Air Medal with 27 Oak Leaf Clusters.
But life in the cockpit brought him something even more significant: a Lord and Savior.
“Despite overcoming many personal and professional hurdles early in my life, it took three catastrophic events to cause me to finally surrender my life to Jesus,” he explains. “The first involved two combat tours in Southeast Asia, seven years apart. The second was a lightning strike while I was flying an F-15 jet at 20,000 feet. The last event was a rocket seat ejection approximately six seconds before my crippled jet made a 70-foot fiery crater in the ground.”
He continues: “The lightning strike proved to be the Lord’s ‘creative two-by-four’ and my wake-up call. At age 38 I had become blind to these truths and lost sight of other important things in my life. This dramatic awakening was well overdue, but I humbly accepted it. My vision also cleared up on many other things, and I began to see all people and things in a different light. The ejection, four years later, finally made me realize that my ‘skill and cunning’ account was woefully overdrawn. It finally got my attention and renewed my appreciation of who the great creator of the universe really is. It was truly time to get both feet oriented to walk in His ways.”
Since leaving the Air Force, Dick has had quite a walk, seeking to use his God-given gifts of compassion, concern for the less-fortunate and generosity to make the world a better place. It’s a walk, he says, that has been driven in part by his Pinnacle Forum experience in Arizona.
“The accountability and fellowship with successful professional men of who love the Lord have strengthened me in my personal walk with Christ,” he says, explaining that “Pinnacle Forum’s Four “E” Strategy allows individual members to concentrate on where their strengths are in reaching others. All four are clear avenues for helping others discover and embrace their God-given calling.”
When Dick discovered his calling, he engaged and executed in a big way. After developing or managing successful small businesses in several southern and western states following his retirement from the military, he joined Ross Perot’s “United We Stand America” organization and became a strong advocate for education, economic and government reform. He went on to head the organization’s 12-state Southwest Region, and eventually was tapped by Perot to be the national coordinator for minority community outreach for the Reform Party that was being formed.
And while other education, government and military experiences came his way, Dick’s early connection as a person of color with his Tuskegee Airmen mentors would play a central role in carrying out God’s call in His life.
In the early 2000’s, he was instrumental in getting the federal funding to establish the $29-million Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama, played a key role in the Air Force’s minority recruiting program, was the founding president of a Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. chapter in Arizona, and is active in youth programs and outreach efforts in the greater Phoenix area. And Dick helped lead an effort in Washington DC that resulted in 300 surviving Tuskegee Airmen and their spouses receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.
Those accomplishments and more brought recognition far and wide – from his high school in Shreveport, where he was inducted into its hall of fame, to the Pentagon, where his portrait as a “Pioneering Combat Pilot” hangs with others in a hall of honor.
But they also made him a highly sought-after motivational speaker here in the U.S. and overseas. And they led Dick and his wife, Peggy, to author two books “to inspire and motivate [people] to seek the freedom we have been blessed to find – the freedom to create, dream, forgive, love unconditionally, and to pursue the life our Great Creator meant for us to have.”
The first, “An Uncaged Eagle – True Freedom,” is a memoir that focuses on determination, perseverance and victory over adversity. Drawing on Dick’s life experiences, it offers a message of hope for anyone who has faced great difficulties, and provides a roadmap for achieving forgiveness and restoration in the most difficult broken relationships.
The second, “Woman – A Godly Creation,” was written to encourage women of all ages to appreciate their God-given greatness, and offers practical and spiritual tools to help them navigate the challenges they face in a male-dominated world.
Just as he has worked to advance the cause of minorities and women, Dick thinks PinnacleForum has an opportunity to do the same.
“I believe Pinnacle Forum Partners have an outstanding opportunity to get outside their comfort zone and do more to encourage and effect racial and gender diversity in their Forums,” he says, adding, “I am very comfortable in my skin in any environment; however, many men and women of color stand back or stay away because they have not been invited to participate.”
With everything that has happened in his life – from growing up in Shreveport to becoming a Top Gun pilot, decorated warrior and motivational speaker and author to interacting with the King of Saudi Arabia, Ross Perot, and Coretta Scott King – Dick’s greatest pride and passion are in his wife Peggy and their family.
“My fifty-four plus years of marriage to a Christian wife, our eight children (five adopted or foster), thirteen grandchildren, and two great grandchildren are my greatest accomplishments in life,” he says. “This realization happened as a result of the lightning strike at 20,000 feet.”
For more information, visit his website at www.anuncagedeagle.com. His books, “An Uncaged Eagle – True Freedom” and “Woman – A Godly Creation,” are available on his website as well as at amazon.com.