Bill Jennings, who led Orlando International Airport through the travails of 9-11 and a solid spurt of growth during the early 2000s, passed away after a long illness Sunday. He was 68.
Phil Brown, Executive Director of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) remembered Jennings as "very soft-spoken, very smart. He knew how to work with people."
He was a founding member of the Airport Minority Advisory Council, who in 1983, with eight other forward-thinking individuals, saw a need and an opportunity to encourage airport operators to promote the inclusion of minorities and women in employment and contracting opportunities throughout the aviation industry.
Jennings spent most of his 30-year professional career at Orlando International, holding a variety of positions, including human-resources director. He was the executive-director from 2000 to 2006.
Frank Kruppenbacher, who now chairs the airport's board of directors, called Jennings a "giant" in the aviation industry.
"Mr. Jennings was a steady hand," Kruppenbacher said in a prepared statement, "which helped guide our airport during the tragedy of 9-11, making us all more secure as a community and an industry."
The airport grew dramatically during his tenure, and he guided the development of initial plans to build a second terminal a mile to the south of the existing one. That proposal was shelved after the recession hit in 2008, but has been resurrected in recent months.
Jennings earned a degree in mathematics in 1969 from Florida A&M University, where he was a member of the ROTC. He later joined the Army, serving in active duty for four years, followed by 15 years in the reserves.
Florida A&M officials said Jennings remained loyal to his alma mater, serving as the university's board chairman for four years. He also helped establish Florida A&M's law school in Orlando and was a member of the College of Law's Board of Visitors.
University President Elmira Mangum said in a written statement, “Jennings was a trusted adviser. He was kindhearted and dedicated to the advancement of FAMU," she said. "He was a strong supporter of the university, a proud alumnus and served our country and state with great compassion and commitment."
Jennings received an honorary doctorate at FAMU's 2013 fall commencement for his long commitment to the university and his civic achievements.
In addition to overseeing the beefed-up security measures that were ushered into the Orlando airport after 9-11, Jennings also offered training programs and technical assistance to airport leaders in developing African nations such as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali, Kenya, Eritrea, Morocco and Tunisia.
Officials from those countries would come to Orlando, where they studied issues such as civil aviation, security, airfield and ramp safety and crisis management.
He also was integral in establishing programs at the airport that encouraged women and minority-owned businesses to compete for contracts.
Jennings was known as well for his efforts in opening the American Beach Museum in American Beach, Fla. That facility is dedicated to the life and work of Abraham Lincoln Lewis, who more than 50 years ago bought beachfront property in Nassau County. African-Americans — banned from public beaches in that era — could freely use that property to swim and sunbathe.