Toby Keith dies at 62; Local man recalls pilot days

by Toni Hopper

(July 8, 1961-Feb. 5, 2024)

Oklahoma lost a great treasure on Tuesday, Feb. 5, when legendary singer-songwriter Toby Keith died at the age of 62. Politicians who knew him issued their condolences and thoughts.

Local Marlow resident and pilot Steve Terrell spent five years touring the country and world with Toby Keith.

"I had a great time with Toby. I flew for him for five years, April 2010 to 2015. Toby lived life big and had a generous heart," Terrell said. Terrell and co-pilot Trey Kilgore did more than just fly him from city to city. They played golf with Toby at his golf course, Belmar, in Norman. "He was so appreciative of what he did. He gave back so much, from sponsoring events to singing for the military *USO tours," said Terrell.

Terrell, and Kilgore of Edmond, are OSU graduates and it was something to be able to fly one of OU's biggest fans all those years. According to those who knew of Toby's generosity, the colors didn't matter. Terrell said that when his family wanted to meet Toby, at the time, Karsten was just a few years old and he was wearing the OSU colors. It didn't bother Toby Keith.

Fans and others who knew Toby quickly shared their own thoughts on social media platforms upon word of his death. Described as an ambassador for the state and a gracious host. Toby Keith also sponsored a women's collegiate golf tournament every year, according to Stephen Howard, Stillwater, on his X (Twitter) page.

Terrell said that's the kind of guy Toby Keith was. He recalls Toby loved to talk and sometimes they would get a call that it might be a few hours before Toby would be ready to board the plane - because he'd meet someone and just spend hours talking. "He was the most generous guy, not only with his money, but with his time."

Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) said Toby Keith's love of American and Oklahoma was ever-present. "He never failed to show up for our military, embarking on multiple USO tours for our troops. In fact, after a visit to Iraq, where he came under fire at a forward operating base, the House of Representatives passed a resolution commending him for his courage and support of our men and women in uniform. Not surprisingly, he continued performing during the attack."

Cole said that Toby actually grew up a few blocks from where Cole's grandmother lived in the Southgate neighborhood of Moore and that he never forgot his hometown.

"After every tornado or local disaster, he was always there to help with a concert and generous donations to local charities. His name is on a local water tower for a reason. Toby Keith loved Moore, Oklahoma -- and its citizens loved him right back."

Terrell and Kilgore were flying Toby on that fateful day, May 20, 2013 when a tornado decimated Toby's hometown. "It was a beautiful day when we took off. When he heard of the tornado, he said we needed to come back." And that's what they did.

"I don't know of anybody that was as plugged in to the state of Oklahoma as Toby Keith. He was a fun guy to hang around with and a great songwriter." Terrell, Cole and fans everywhere will echo the same sentiment. "He'll be sorely missed, but his words will live on through every song," Cole said.

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