Cdr. John Paradiso Scholarship for Women in Aviation/Aerospace

Johnnie Paradiso and Nina Clay Paradiso

Commander John Paradiso loved to fly. It was not a job to him; he was simply thrilled to be in the air, living his dream.

His teachings, joy, passion, sense of humor and unbridled love of flight were the inspiration for his two daughters, Johnnie and Nina Clay Paradiso, to give wings to future generations of aviation enthusiasts. Not to mention, to his daughter Clay he was the best pizza cook in the world.

Johnnie and Clay have established an endowment in their father’s name to benefit young women and girls who have a sincere interest in pursuing their dreams of flight. “The scholarship is an extension of the person our father was – he was encouraging of whatever our passions and dreams were,” said Johnnie. “It represents the perpetuating and loving encouragement of a father to his daughters.”

The love of soaring amongst the clouds runs deep in the Paradiso family. “I’ve always loved the idea of flight,” expressed Johnnie. “In my dreams, I’d get myself up in a tree and willed myself into space as if I was flying without wings or machinery. It was my ultimate goal as a child – to learn to fly.”

Although their father’s naval position caused the Paradiso family to frequently move, Cdr. Paradiso gave his children both roots to come home to and wings to propel their dreams. Through their contribution Johnnie and Clay wish to help those not fortunate enough to have a significant adult role model in their lives as they did. “It’s my hope that to some young woman, this could be the springboard into her dreams,” said Clay.

The two sisters understand the importance of giving wings to the future. They were inspired to do so by their father’s love of flight and the connectedness of everything through his appreciation of nature. He always said that everyone touches everything, and no word or act is small or insignificant if put out there with a loving consciousness.

The Paradiso family has always stayed connected, even through tough times of misfortune. When Hurricane Ivan swept the gulf coast, it destroyed the Bayou Grande – home to Cdr. Paradiso and his wife, Nina Clay. Nearly all was lost, including most of the family photographs that held memories long past.

One of the only surviving photographs of the loving couple presents them in the early years of their marriage at a beautiful art museum in California. Two gorgeous sphinxes bracket the entrance of the museum, with the couple sitting on the back of one of them. Johnnie connects a great meaning to the lone photograph:

“What has been captured in this moment, sitting on the back of this strong, mythological, winged beast, is their loving trust in each other which gave them the courage to take that leap of faith into whatever the future might hold for them. The trust, the love, the future – that’s what’s here.”

When their father passed away at the age of 88, the two sisters wanted to find a way to keep their father’s memory alive on earth, touching the lives of others forever. They wanted the love, compassion and encouragement that was so much a part of their parents’ characters to go on forever, touching as many people as possible.

The Paradiso Scholarship for Women in Aviation/Aerospace will do just that. It represents not only financial assistance to a young woman or girl, but also the great adventure of flight.

Establishing a family legacy has had an impact on the Paradiso sisters far beyond their expectations. “I’ve become a more patient, compassionate person as a result of my parents’ deaths,” said Clay. “I’m more in touch with my humanity and just appreciate the beauty that’s around me.”

Coping with losing a loved one is difficult, but the Paradisos have been comforted by realizing the impact made by helping others. Giving wings through leaving a legacy is a beautiful option to explore in appreciation of those who have passed on that had a sincere love of being in the sky.

The Paradiso sisters truly have given wings to the future of flight.

Johnnie Paradiso

The Paradiso's parents on the back of a sphinx.

“What has been captured in this moment, sitting on the back of this strong, mythological, winged beast, is their loving trust in each other which gave them the courage to take that leap of faith into whatever the future might hold for them. The trust, the love, the future – that’s what’s here.”