I was home two nights, and on Thursday, May 22 left home early, and flew to Dallas/Fort Worth for the annual meeting of the American Airlines Credit Union. I had served on their board of directors for almost 12 years, and this was my last meeting. I would have been happy to continue to serve, but retired employees like me were too large a share of total, plus we needed to make room for former US Airways employees. First stop was a quick lunch with friends Ken Gilbert and Nisha Pasha; coincidentally, American’s Asian employee resource groups were staging a lunchtime program in the corporate headquarters, and Ken and I got to watch Nisha do some traditional Indian dances, resplendent in a red sari. Afterwards, I sat with several Indian and Pakistani employees and had a nice chat. E pluribus unum!
Nisha drove me to a nearby hotel, I worked for a bit, rode a fitness bike, and walked a few blocks down Trinity Blvd. to the credit union. I was a bit sad, because the AACU connection was my final link to American Airlines, a relationship that began almost 27 years earlier. Indeed, as I walked, I spotted the apartments where I lived for three months in fall 1987, before the family moved into our new house.
AACU CEO Angie Owens gave me a moment to deliver a short talk. Here it is:
Good afternoon. I am honored and pleased to have served 12 years as a board member for your credit union. That service has been facilitated by great leadership and an outstanding staff, and I salute your commitment, experience, and passion.
Although I appreciate and respect most parts of our free-enterprise economy, I strongly believe that when it comes to our money, the cooperative model – the credit union model – serves working Americans better than banks do. There are some parts of the economy where profit is a powerful and effective motivator, but when it comes to the basics of saving and borrowing, and of helping manage our money, the member-owned solution is the best one. And that’s even before we consider all the damage that commercial banks have wrought to the national and global economy in recent years. Had they run their banks with the care and prudence of our credit union, we would not have endured the worst financial turndown since the Great Depression.
Since 2002, I have served the credit union to the best of my ability, always keeping your interests foremost. As you may know, none of us earn a dime for our service. But volunteering provides its own rewards – something that each of you who gives freely to school or church or nonprofit already knows.
Although everyone eligible to belong to the AACU is very welcome indeed, I want to end by lifting up all the member-owners who work for American Airlines. You have endured enormous professional and personal challenges, and a lot of bad news, during the past 15 years, and your persistence and resolve are unmatched in any industry or company. I salute all AAers in the Credit Union and thank you for your continued service in providing safe, reliable air transport. But, as you know, it is more than that. What American Airlines people do is to bring people together, and there are few labors as wonderful as that.
Thank you again for your trust in me as a member of the board.
The meeting was over soon after. I lingered a bit, shaking hands, hugging a few dear friends, and saying goodbye. Another departing board member, Rob Friedman, drove me back to the hotel. And a chapter ended.
At 6:30, longtime mentee Jay Shelat picked me up and we headed out to dinner. Jay is another immigrant from India, so we headed to Pasand, a nearby Indian place I’ve liked for a decade. We had a swell dinner and a long chat across a lot of airline and aviation topics.
Was up early Friday morning, worked a bit, then headed to the airport in time to meet one more AA friend, Laura Burnett, who heads the flight attendant crew base at DFW, a big job, more than 5,000 employees. We had a great catch-up – it had been a couple of years – and some laughs. I have long appreciated her candor and perspective on the airline business. She walked me to my gate, and on the way we ran into another American stalwart, Captain Bob Johnson. I hadn’t seen Bob in years, and was delighted to learn that as a result of the merger, he got a super promotion and was now responsible for five of American’s pilot crew bases, as well as flight operations in western North America, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific. After I said goodbye to Laura and Bob I was again wistful; the decision to take early retirement in 2006 made sense and still does, but I truly miss the superb people I was privileged to work with, and the opportunity to be part of a large and complex operation – a business, as I described in my speech the day before, that does so much good for so many people.
I don’t usually write about little sorties close to home, but on Memorial Day (for non U.S. readers: a national holiday to remember those who served in the military) I hopped on my bike and rode to Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac River from Washington. Their morning ceremony was packed and access was cumbersome, so I rode across the bridge and a mile to the World War II Memorial, which was in any case the most important stop, for it was the opportunity to thank my dad, Captain Britton, for his service to freedom and nation in World War II. The memorial is circular, half for Atlantic battles and half for the Pacific, with outer pillars marking each state and territory. I located the Montana column, and beneath it laid a yellow rose and a sheet:
I then walked along the arc of granite slabs that marked the major Pacific battles, and his team fought in four of them. Others who still remember had laid flowers and photos (next to the Montana column, a picture of the six Jacobson brothers from North Dakota was a poignant reminder of just how many served and how deeply families were involved). I didn’t really intend to see if anyone noticed what I wrote about my dad, and I couldn’t resist striking up a conversation with a couple of them. One fellow asked to take my picture next to my remembrance. I was touched that they also took the time to remember and to thank.
Adjacent to the memorial were some shady benches, and I plopped down to think. Soon I was in a great T-t-S moment with some visitors from Pennsylvania, and soon after that, with them and Steve, a sergeant major in the Army, and his wife. Steve was just about to retire after 28 years of service, and looked great in full-dress uniform and beret. It was good to thank a living servant of nation. Although as a citizen I have long questioned U.S. presidents’ decisions to deploy troops, I have long had total respect and admiration for those who serve. (And as regular readers know, believe strongly in mandatory service, so politicians’ make better decisions, knowing that their sons and daughters and those of the well-to-do would share the burden.) Steve and his wife, both from Green Bay and headed there soon, were very honest about the challenges of his many years.
It was truly Memorial Day.
Three days later, I headed west to Chicago, early morning, for my annual talk at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Hopped on the bus for a slow ride east from O’Hare to Evanston, the leafy older suburb adjacent to the university. At 11, I met my long hose Anne Coughlan, and for the first time in several years my airline friend Gary Doernhoefer. Together, we would teach the evening class. We had a good yak, some lunch, prep for the class, and in mid-afternoon drove south on Lake Shore Drive to the downtown campus. It was a spectacular day, and Gary reminisced a bit about living in Chicago while in law school (U. of C.). It was great to be on the shores of Lake Michigan; as I have written many times, the Great Lakes are a spectacular resource.
We had dinner with ten students in the class, then had a great 110 minutes with them, discussing various aspects of airline sales and distribution. At eight, we peeled off, dropping my stuff at my hotel and heading south on Michigan Avenue to an agreeable bar and restaurant in the old Chicago Tribune building. Gary had found the place some months earlier, and enthused about their huge selection of craft beers. We enjoyed a couple of glasses from local producers, had a great yak and some laughs, and parted ways. Always good to spend time with Gary.
Was up early the next morning (the one-hour time difference from home does that now), to the gym, then out to find some coffee and breakfast. I had a couple of hours, so went for a nice walk along the lake, into the sand at Oak Street Beach, and back. Chicago is such a cool city, for the big lake, the stunning architecture, the energy, and the greater civility of the Midwest.
At 10:30 I checked out, walked several blocks west, and hopped on the CTA subway (the “El”), changing to the Brown Line and rolling north to the Ravenswood neighborhood. At 11:30 I met Cousin Jim, who as a real-estate agent was showing prospective buyers a $650,000 duplex on Winchester Ave. We hopped in his car and drove a few blocks to Lincoln Square, and a caloric lunch (sloppy joe, first one in years and years, with a mountain of Tater Tots) at a corner bar, with good catch-up yak. He drove me to O’Hare, and I flew home.