Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He also headed PR and media relations for Beech, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and the Airport Operators Council International.
I just learned that the city of Boise has named an airport road “Ed Stimpson Way” in honor of my (late) old boss, former GAMA president and U.S. ambassador to ICAO. I also just got the invite to my 40th college reunion — oh, geez! Both remind me of Ed, and that there was an Ed Stimpson “way” long before it was a street name in his adopted Idaho.
I flew Ed to his Harvard class reunion in 1981, held that year in Newport, R.I. I couldn’t help but notice his elite college peers looking askance at this “thing” (a factory-new Piper Saratoga SP) Ed arrived in from Washington. “Will it get to the West Coast?” they asked. Yes but with fuel stops, he answered to doubting sophisticates. I recognized their veiled skepticism. I knew well the strangeness my college peers saw in my devotion to General Aviation.
Ed’s dedication to GA focused on ideas and win-win strategies, not ego or self-aggrandizement. It made him credible in Washington and valuable in our bravado-filled aviation world. In Ed Stimpson and industry leaders like him, I found people with whom I could identify, respect and devote a working lifetime. Don’t get me wrong; I found faults, too. But I think they, like me, had no cause for complaint about a life devoted to our shared cause.
There truly was an “Ed Stimpson way” and it emphasized mutual respect, group consensus and an optimism arising (in part) from his arrival in D.C. during the Kennedy and early Johnson eras. Turned out, life (in Washington and in GA) was not to be as simple as that in later decades. But character wins its due. That’s why hundreds of post-1996 Cessnas have “ES” tail numbers, Echo Sierra for Ed Stimpson — industry advocate, Russ Meyer collaborator and never-say-die product liability reformer.
I don’t know if this is the year I want to face my college frat brothers and their magnificent careers in law, business or whatever. I respect them for their accomplishments but wouldn’t trade my life in aviation for their more traditional pursuits. For me, aviation was the story of the 20th century.
Where else could I have rubbed shoulders with pioneers in a literally “groundbreaking” American industry? Just a f’instance or three: Jimmy Doolittle, Jimmy Stewart and Astronaut Pete Conrad were just guys stuck, like me, at the door to the 1981 Aviation/Space Writers banquet in Hollywood. Chuck Yeager was just the guy ahead in line at an Oshkosh hot dog stand. Paul Tibbetts or Robert Morgan were found signing books at some little fly-in. I hope you’ve had similar opportunities to feel part of this great American journey.
We are what we are. And we’ve been part of a magnificent era in American history and progress. For some, GA is a cherished avocation that makes life exciting. For others, aviation has made life worth living.
© Drew Steketee 2011. All Rights reserved.