Industry mourns loss of former NBAA president

 - January 28, 2009, 7:30 AM

The formal obituaries on the death of John Winant recount his education, occupational history, achievements and awards but say little about the kind of man John was. Perhaps I can add a human-interest factor based on having worked with and for John for 13 years as a member of the NBAA staff.

John joined the NBAA Board of Directors in 1957 as a corporate executive representing Sprague Electric, of North Adams, Mass. As such he was a rarity and had the distinction of being among the few Board members who were not aviation department managers or chief pilots. There were other Board members who were corporate executives. John Bean of International Multifoods, James Nields of Ware Knitters and Harry McCreary of McCreary Tire and Rubber come to mind, but they had also been pilots. As corporate secretary I was present at a number of Board meetings and I noted that John was able to join in the deliberations without fear or trepidation while lending a different point of view.

When the top NBAA staff position opened up in 1971, the Board searched for someone who possessed “statesmanship.” John Winant appeared to fit the bill and was asked to take on the job. I am sure that John was reluctant to leave Sprague Electric, but he accepted.

John moved right to work, reorganized the staff and set new goals and objectives. In short order, he got the hang of it and gained more knowledge with each experience.

I had been told that John’s job title at Sprague Electric had been vice president of industrial relations. I was given to understand that this translated into being the company man in union negotiations. Well, negotiating was one of the primary functions of NBAA whether it be with the FAA, the IRS, the DOT or other aviation organizations. John had the knack of negotiating NBAA’s points of view and being the “go to” guy when there was disagreement among the participants.

John depended on the NBAA staff for technical knowledge and used them effectively. He picked up the jargon rapidly and, indeed, he had people believing that he had a pilot’s background for he sounded confident.

Although John had been a Marine officer, he seldom, if ever, mentioned it. That was rather unusual, for Marines are instilled with a fierce sense of pride and made no bones about it. I assume he had his own thoughts about it.

Unknown to most was that John had a deep interest in the exploits of England’s King Arthur. He had bought a flat in London and nurtured the desire to trace King Arthur’s activities and write a book about it. John had a studious approach to writing that was borne out by the aviation books he authored–Keep Business Flying and NBAA Works.

Yes, John provided NBAA with the statesmanship that the Board was looking for. As an example, when European business aviation interests expressed an interest in creating an association, John used his negotiating and statesmanship skills to assist in setting up the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and served as its leader for several years.

John received a number of industry awards. I suspect that the FAA’s Distinguished Service Award pleased him most.

As for me, John let me do my staff jobs, offering counsel and guidance along the way. After I left NBAA at the end of 1984 John and I stayed in touch occasionally. Much of it was by mail until John’s illnesses made it difficult for him to write. We then went to Plan B, which was my mail and his telephone calls.
John Winant was as good as they come in his position as NBAA’s president. I shall cherish the memory of our work together and long lasting and friendly relationship.     o