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Oral History Interview with Carolyn Fennell Senior Director of Public Affairs for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority

Ms. Carolyn Fennell is Senior Director of Public Affairs for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. She is responsible for communication for Orlando International Airport and Orlando Executive Airport including all domestic and international media relations and crisis communication. Ms. Fennell is the recipient of numerous awards for her outstanding professional work including the Airport Council of North America’s Ted Bushelman Legacy Award for Creativity and Excellence, Florida Commission on the Status of Women Award for Outstanding Contributions and Services to the Community, Florida Public Relations Association Public Relations Professional of the Year, Orlando Business Journal Business Woman of the Year, and Onyx Magazine’s 2021 Woman of the Year. Her leadership contributions include serving on the Airport Council International-North America Marketing and Communications Steering Committee, Central Florida Hotel Lodging Association, Jacksonville Branch Board of Directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau (Visit Orlando) Executive Committee and Board of Directors, Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, and Valencia Community College Foundation. The University of Central Florida Rosen College of Hospitality inducted Carolyn Fennell into the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame for her brilliant achievements.

Hear the oral history of a Florida native who became the first African American to work in Publicity at Walt Disney World in Orlando and is Onyx Magazine’s 2021 Woman of the Year. Please join us in listening to this interview with Carolyn Fennell.

I’m Carolyn Fennell and I was born in Tallahassee, Florida. I’m a Floridian.

Listen:  Part I of III. (15:36)


Ms. Carolyn Fennell is Senior Director of Public Affairs for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, and Onyx Magazine’s 2021 Woman of the Year.

Is that where you grew up?

I grew up between Tallahassee and Leesburg. My mother’s home was Leesburg, Florida. My father’s was Tallahassee. So as a child we went between the two. I actually went to Florida A & M High School and Florida A & M University and Carver Heights in Leesburg for a period. So I had a true Floridian experience in the two destinations.

What did you study when you were at Florida A & M?

I majored in English and minored in Journalism.

Obviously you have been outstanding in your success level, but how did you think the program was in your studies there?

I think the Florida A & M program was superb. It was an area of gathering. It was during the Civil Rights Movement. So I was very active in the Civil Rights Movement in terms of looking at equality and opportunity. But what was there were professors, who like Journalism Professor Mrs. Gore, and everyone knew her, and, in fact, the President of ABC News Ken Godwin was one of her students. So there’s quite a success right there. She insisted on excellence and confidence and that was kind of part of the mantra of that era. You can do it. You will do it. And there are many success stories out of Florida A & M University so I was pleased to have had that opportunity.

You mentioned your mother and father, did you know your grandparents?

Yes, I did. Yes, I did. One of my mentors, if anyone asks for me is to talk about my grandmother. My grandmother was a small business entrepreneur. She had a little cafe. She had a beauty shop. And, she gave me a lot of my style. She would wear Windsor Rose nail polish every day. She said, “A woman should never have chipped nails. She should always have her lipstick on. She should also always be properly dressed.” And even as a young child if I was trying to reach something that was high in her cafe or store or something, she would say, “You can do it, baby.” And I still to this day when I have something that I have to do, I’ll go, “You can do it, baby.” So I came from a family of very strong women. 

My mother also was a minister; became later in life, a minister, but was always strong in her faith. And through that, there were certain messages that I received as a child growing up, And again it was “Be a lady.” You know, “Study”. “Be confident”. And those were messages received as a child and they were constant. And certainly, the strength of faith. The belief that you are worthy. Belief that you are capable. Belief that you can make a difference. And so, that’s kind of been a driving force for me all of my life.    

May I please ask what kind of a minister your mother was?

She started out in the Baptist Church when the Baptist Church would not let women be ministers. At her time coming along, they were not allowed in the pulpit. She later became part of the Pentecostal Movement. And then she formed her own church that still stands today. And she was responsible for training a number of the black women ministers in the Central Florida area. Her name is Christine Long [Reverend Christine S. Long]. Her church is on Pine Hills Road. Still there are people that look to her training, her teaching because she was a student of theology. In fact, she got honorary doctorates, more degrees than anyone else in our family. But just a very quiet strength. When you talk about a velvet glove, she was a beautiful woman. So one would not suspect her strength immediately. But we jokingly say, and even her parishioners say, “Her eyes across the room would straighten up a lot of situations.” 

And you said her church is in Pine Hills and it’s still there today? 

Yes, Way of Life Ministries. She has passed. She passed in 2014. The Church is still there and in fact her name is still on the wall of the church there.

As a young person, what was your impression of your mom being a minister? If I understand correctly, at that time period in particular, and maybe somewhat today, it wasn’t a traditional role. 

It was not a traditional role. She became a minister after I was adult. But, she had always been very engaged. Like many black southerners, you went to church all day Sunday. You went to Sunday School. You went to Morning Service. You went to, they had in the Baptist Church, they had young people’s union that you’d go there and then you’d go to church at night. So it was a full steeping in religious training and activities. But she became a minister and it was interesting because she certainly was a trailblazer in this region for that. So I think some of her – that strength and that determination – drives me today.

Well, thank you for that thorough answer. It’s funny I was going to ask you what a typical Sunday was like for you growing up. So that was the typical Sunday? 

A typical Sunday was starting with Sunday School. I was active in the Junior Choir. My mother would train young people in the choir. So her path, her trajectory of experiences in the Church sort of brought me along with the time of growing up. Obviously, later as I got older I didn’t continue as she started out. But she certainly did and moved to that role of feeling women had a place. So we had a very strong family of women leadership. 

How would you spend your holidays and your summer vacations?

Well, part of the summer vacation, depending on where we were whether we were going to my grandmother’s that was in Tallahassee or when we lived in Leesburg or vice versa. A lot of it was, I was very active in neighborhood organizations. I would also speak at various occasions as a young person. So I was pretty, I had a pretty active social life in the community element. So that was a big deal for me, volunteering for Church, being involved in that. Also, volunteering in the community.


Just loved to read! I was an avid reader at that time. They had those, you’re too young to know about the dressers that had two sets of drawers on either side and there was like a piece, a vacant space in the middle. That was my favorite place as a young child to go and read. Because nobody would bother you there. So, I’d take my books and sit there and read. Still now, my house is loaded with books all over. And my sons tease me, can’t you get rid of some of these? I say, “No.” When I think of somebody that I like and I want to find that book, it’s there many times. So along with friends and family, that was my childhood. Yeah, lots of family and friends.

And, I’m assuming you’ve been to Disney World because I saw a picture of your name tag.

Well, interesting, I did. I lived abroad for a decade or more, and when I came back here with the transition, I came to Orlando to live. My sister was one of the first tour guides there. And I always admired her talking about The Disney Experience. And, by that time, I had worked in ABC News in London and came back to Orlando, and I wanted a job at Disney. And, it literally took me a long time to get an interview. But, I would call Bob Billingslea, who has passed, who was one of the senior executives at Disney every morning at 9 o’clock to try to get an interview. And finally, I got an interview. And, I got to be, I was the first African American to work in publicity at Walt Disney World. And that was a fantastic experience under Charlie Ridgeway and Charlie Ridgeway has a window on Main Street. 

International Press Experience

But Disney didn’t advertise at that point and the publicity department was responsible for getting the message out. So we would host media groups, we would work with them. Because I had international experience, I would also work with international press, and radio was my medium at the time. We are still very close, that team of four of us, we still get together at least twice a year. It was an incredible experience. 

Was that your first visit to Disney as an adult or did you visit as a child?

Actually when Disney opened I was living in Belfast.. and so, when I moved here to Orlando, in my tradition I said I wanted to work at Disney because that was the mecca so to speak. And it was a great experience. I could not do what I do now had I not been at Walt Disney World in the field that I was in.

And when you went there did you still have a sense of wonder?

Oh, absolutely! Everyday. Everyday. I mean we still talk about it now. As I said our friends get together and we meet at least twice a year. At Christmas we get together for three days. And we tell the same stories about the same events. You know, the day you came in and Mickey was sitting in your chair. Or the day that you took a press crew in the middle of the parade and you got in trouble with operations. Or the day that we tested Big Thunder, the roller coaster. So there are great memories. And, I think, part of what Disney gave to this community was a sense of experience.

“The Orlando Experience”

At the airport where I work now we have our trademark is: “The Orlando Experience”. And we’re hearing more and more about experience now. But there was that suspension short of being hot of challenges. And so, you could suspend reality for a moment and experience what it was like to be a child whether you were one or 93.  Our office was on Main Street so we would see people coming in. Every now and then, the big joke for us was if we were trying to write a news release or trying to get a program finished,  well, we’d go have a bag of popcorn. And literally, we would go down, because the popcorn kiosk was right in front of our office on Main Street and we were City Hall, we’d go down and get the popcorn. Then our boss bought a popcorn machine. And we went, “It’s not the same. It’s not the same, Charlie.” (His name was Charlie Ridgeway.) “It’s not the same Charlie. We need to be down with the people.” So I still now will say to my team at the airport: “Go walk around a little bit.” Well, with Covid we don’t as much. “Go see what the people are experiencing.” And I think that is what the structure, the sense of creating an experience, the sense of authenticity. The sense of where else can you have this experience platform. I think that’s what made Disney. And a lot of that has run off into the whole Central Florida region. I mean, where else do you have the kind of architecture that we have? 

“We want to have a big event!”

Or that sense of events. I’m always in wonder when new airlines will come, “We we are going to do this big event!” We’re all about events. When you look at downtown Orlando, there’s always a festival or a program that gets people engaged and in an experience. So, I think, that’s part of what Disney gave to this region.

Listen:  Part II of III. (19:57)


You mentioned a little bit about your international background and I wondered if you could elaborate on that on some of the experiences that you’ve had because I think those unique experiences helped shape you as an individual and you bring those to work every day…

I have a theme that you must live your life in moments. And all my friends joke, you know, it’s like I always want crystal glasses to drink out of or cloth napkins. And my friends all have their special throw in my little bungalow. And so, my life even internationally is about moments. I mean, I had the opportunity and experience.

Sri Lanka

My former husband was a diplomat, a foreign service officer. So, I mean, going to Sri Lanka, I lived there and it was interesting because that couldn’t be more exotic. All your senses are awakened in Asia. The sense of smell, of the spices, of the cows, of the flowers. Your sight, the colors, I mean there are colors everywhere. You know, the sounds of the bullet carts, of the children singing, those are there. Or someone climbing a mountain to go and take flowers to the Buddhist Temple, not my religion, but certainly there’s a beauty there. So Sri Lanka for me was just an incredible experience. And I lived there through a coup so I had that experience of moving out and when the government had transferred.


So from Sri Lanka I went to Belfast. And in Belfast that was a turbulent time of the Troubles. But I got to go to Queen’s University there and pack up the moments I studied Russian history and literature there. And I also studied Anglo Irish literature which is where I met Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize winner of literature. And Seamus was this fellow, you could call him a fellow, and I go in his class and I’m nervous about it because normally diplomatic wives are not allowed to work. Well, they are expected to do more entertaining and being present and representing the country and there were ladies clubs. And there was Seamus, this early morning in a peacoat and it looked like he had a great evening before. And he started reading Yeats and I melted all the way into the floor. I mean, it was like – I mean the way he would read. And he knew about all the areas that Yeats used in the background. That was Belfast.


Then I moved to Fiji. We talked about moments. And Fiji, I was there and I studied at the University of South Pacific there and studied their culture. And I got to meet Margaret Mead. And that was pretty cool. I went to one lecture of hers because she was studying there. But I was the only non – Fijian there at the wedding of the Prime Minister and the Vice Prime Minister’s son and daughter. So that was a moment. And I got to meet Prince Charles there in our role in England.


And then I moved to London. London was – I would go to London from Belfast for R&R. We’d go there. And then London, I broke the mold and I was one of the first wives to work there. I mean, I’d been doing journalism, some articles that I appeared on. I mean, I’d write the odd article for local publications where I was. And then I got to meet Peter Jennings and we had an incredible two plus years. Part of that was covering world events. I mean the Economic Summit we talked about we covered that together. When Carter came to Bonn, we covered that. And we would be anywhere from private aircraft to scaffoldings above buildings. It was a very exciting period. So I would work day by day with ABC and you know, all of the Frank Reynolds, the Barbara Walters they would all come. I’m not name dropping, but it’s like the moments that shape and share. And then we’d get to go by night to the diplomatic activities, you know, whether it was the Court of St. James or wherever. So it was an incredibly wonderful life. And then I came here to Orlando and I’ve been here since.

And with that background you have stayed in Orlando which means you appreciate Orlando as well?

I truly do. My sons have jobs with corporate organizations. In fact, my older son was in Paris and Switzerland for years. He just came back to the states a couple of years ago. So we always had that tie because they grew up abroad, basically left here as babes and came back here as teenagers. So I keep those ties certainly. I think if you can look beyond your geographical space, you can have an experience of a lifetime. People basically want the same things. They want respect. They want love. They want experiences and opportunities. And regardless of how the cultural works with those, it’s kind of a basic desire. They may approach it differently. 

Culture Experiences

I remember an experience that I share, being in Belfast, I used to play bridge also. And I was at a bridge game and I had a mixed table: Yugoslavian, French, Irish-Protestant, me – and I was hosting. And I walked out of the room and this conversation went on – “Oh, they breed like flies. Oh, you can’t trust them.” And I thought they were talking about me. To tell you how misconceptions work. “We’re not talking about you. We’re talking about the others.” And it was like startling. And my point in telling that is judgements are made and we put stereotypes on people without getting to know the people. So that has been the joy definitely in my international experiences knowing the people I’ve known for going in areas as I said to you. I shared with you the wedding that I went to. I did that because they knew I understood their culture and we’re going back to certain cultural experiences that are in their culture for weddings. And they knew that I understood or was aware of it. Something like, you hold the bride, someone holds the bride the entire time before the wedding. And they knew that I understood those customs to protect her. So I think that’s the key to it, is accepting the basic needs of people regardless of what the geometry is. And I’ve been so blessed to be able to go to those places and have those experiences.

And during that time Orlando has obviously grown. The Oxford University Press every year puts out their Atlas of the World  and Orlando is now in that short list in the front of international cities with Athens, Lisbon…  You are a Florida native that’s returned and you’re now working in an international city at one of the most beautiful airports in the world and welcoming!

Thank you. I’m very active in the art and the aesthetics. I’m on the design committees there. I won’t take total credit at all. I mean, John Wyckoff who was the architect, well architect -in-residence kind of helped build it. But you know, you are so right in how Orlando has grown into this international- when I first went to the airport from Disney, I would go to international trade shows. And I said, “I’m from Orlando.” And they said, “Oh, Africa.” Because they’d see me as an African American woman, they thought, a black woman. And I said, “No, Florida.” And one of the first things we did was to get the airlines to put Orlando on their maps. Because Miami was on the map but not Orlando. So people would land in Miami – even when I was at Disney reporters would land – “We’re going to come this afternoon to do an interview.” And we’d go, “No. We’ll see you tomorrow. You’re at least five hours away.” So that whole concept of Orlando becoming as you said, a dot on the map with its name. That was a big, big move. Because everyone knew Miami and the fact that Orlando International is the busiest airport in the state of Florida is still an anomaly to many.

What is a day or week like for you working for this world-class airport?

I think it starts with kind of the mission and I want to share historically a little bit. Carl Langford who was Mayor of Orlando said, “He wanted an airport for people. That people ride in planes.” In many airports if you do the long, long walks they’re based on the wing span of the aircraft. So the technology – I mean, you can’t be in airports without airplanes – but the technology drove the experience. So Carl Langford and with Carl Langford, was John Wyckoff, who you’ve heard talked about as he was an architect, but he had traveled and he understood the value of having a place that defined the community or branded. So from that was created outdoors in. So you could see the outdoors in every home room in the airport. You have an experience of the window outside, of what’s through the window outside. 

And then you had, along came Linda Chapin who was the first female Chairman [Chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority]. And then you had Jeff Fuqua who was a builder and took us from the original 24 gates to build additional terminals. And then you had others, you know [Frank] Kruppenbacher, [C.W. “Bill”] Jennings who was the first African American who worked on small business opportunities for the airport. So there’s been a trajectory of community and branding… you know, there was Miami, there was Tampa – oh, Orlando. But now it’s Orlando! A look at what you can do to create a first arrival. This community depends on the experience. This community depends on your being able to have a good experience so that you will return. Because much of the themed attractions that we’re so fortunate to have, they expect or they look for return business.

So it was when you arrive you will see Florida. You will see the palm trees when you arrive now in the extended part of the north terminal. You’ll see water. Water around the terminal and water inside in the fountains. And Disney long understood that water was a calming element. And when you’re flying or on a trip you’re always, what did I leave behind? What am I going to? Do I have my documents? Do I have money? Do I have my addresses? And so, if there is any way that you can calm that feeling. Skylights, you know whether it’s raining or it’s sunny outside when you arrive. It isn’t like wait until you get out of the building after going through getting my luggage. So it was that sense. And Carl Langford and Mayor Frederick who was on our Board also, all of them, and certainly Mayor Dyer, who’s on the board right now, all contributed to This is Our Welcome and Our Signature. And they have helped make decisions that allow that to continue. Not to mention the executive directors who have carried that on. But there’s a pride. And I tease my colleagues many times and I say, you know, we’re everybody’s darling. Sometimes we’re not everybody’s baby when there’s an issue, but we’re everybody’s darling.


Art mosaics on the floor of Orlando International Airport create a welcoming impression for visitors. Title: “Field of Ferns”.
Artist: Henry Sinn
Year and dimensions: 2000, 17 by 94 feet
Medium: Polished natural stone and vitreous ceramic
Location: North Terminal, Airside 2 (post-Security), near Shuttles

First Impressions

And part of that is wanting to create a first impression. And that serves. And there are many companies that have moved here because one, obviously the access, the amount of air service that we have from various points, and then certainly, because of the experience and that we can handle. Part of what Mayor Langford helped do and others, Lou Frey, who was formerly a representative, get land. When the Air Force base closed, and that’s why we have MCO on your ticket, McCoy Air Force Base. when it closed, the community received over a thousand acres. And now, we have 13,000 acres which we could put all of Los Angeles, Miami, JFK in our footprint. And what does that mean? That means that you could build well, well into the future. And right now we have the south terminal that’s being built, adding 15 gates. But that space is capable of 120 gates. Many cities have to take down cemeteries, they have to take down roads, close up neighborhoods, all of that in order to be able to expand.

So a vision, a sense of experience, a vision for the future, and a pride in who Orlando is. Those are the messages. So public art was a part of it. John Wycoff was very clear on the blueprints for the terminal literally said, “Art wall”. It wasn’t like there’s a wall, put art. But there are many citizens who served on those early committees. Linda Chapin was one, Jacob Stuart, Que Throm, Frank Holt of the Mennello Museum. Those are the persons who helped make decisions about bringing art in. And we have quite a fine art collection that continues right now. 

Yes. indeed… it is art from the luminaries of this area.

It’s from all over. We have Jacob Lawrence who is one of the most renowned 20th Century Africa-American artists and he came literally to help install that piece. We have certainly Duane Hanson who is a Florida artist who does the realist art – the man that’s sitting – we had to put glass around him because people were – “He’s really painted? That is sculpture?” [“The Traveler” by Duane Hanson] There are just so many, so the art is used as wayfinding. It’s like a meeting place or it’s like an “Ah”. And now, we have some welcome mats that are mosaics in the north terminal when we renovated it. And those represent the various economic resources of the community. And it’s wonderful to see kids dancing on it. Or even we’ve had engagements on the mats. So that makes it memorable when you think of it. And that huge sculpture by Bill King “At the Airport” the community used for its Goals 2000 program as the community looked at what it is we need to focus on to be a world class community. And, the image that was used was “At the Airport” sculpture that you see coming in from the A side was done by Bill King. So we continue to look at what represents, and there is quite a bit of Florida art: Steve Lotz, Bruce Marsh, and the list goes on and we’re so pleased to have their works. Victor Bokas now, in fact, in the southwest terminal. The mosaic floors that are there are all floors done by Florida artists at concept.


Orlando International Airport floor mosaics are welcome mats for travelers. Title: “Florascape”.
Artist: R. Grady Kimsey
Year and dimensions: 2000, 15 by 88 feet
Medium: Polished natural stone and vitreous ceramic
Location: North Terminal, Airside 2 (post-security), near Gates 121-129

And then artisans created the color and the sculpture. That was an exciting moment. Marena Grant and [Cue Thorn?] were on the committee then for art. And that was quite an experience because they were done from very small concepts and then went to 95 foot floors. But there are no windows there so those mosaics create the art. And they’re wayfinding. If you’re at a mosaic there’s a restroom or a restaurant.





Wayfinding mosaics guide guests to Restrooms and Restaurants at Orlando International Airport. Title: “Florida Vacation”.
Artist: Victor Bokas
Year and dimensions: 2000, 15 by 88 feet
Medium: Polished natural stone and vitreous ceramic
Location: North Terminal, Airside 2 (post-Security), near Gates 100-109

And I’m always so thankful for that. I know when I get to Orlando International Airport I can find a bathroom. It’s fantastic.

Right, right.

Listen:  Part III  (14:52)


You know what people don’t know which speaks to the economy really quickly is 95% of the passengers that come here cross the curb either arriving or departing. So that creates a different need for an airport. People will compare it and say, “When are you building more parking spaces? Well Atlanta doesn’t have a problem.” But Atlanta, the busiest airport in the world, the majority of its passengers are connecting. So the demands on infrastructure, on space, on amenities, on personnel are greater when you have people dwelling in your house for a longer period of time. 

You know I was so impressed we were talking about the personal experience and there is a human element to that, that I think is also reflective of the values of Orlando and the values of our country as well… the General Aviation Business Summit that’s coming up… Orlando has always been a tech center obviously from the time that Martin Marietta put a Quonset hut out at the local airport and chose this area to build. The tech, NASA in our area, the simulation industry. Now there’s more of a focus of branding Orlando as a tech center in addition to the theme parks. And you, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority have done – there are some firsts that you all have made in terms of tech… I find it rather fascinating that you’re able to combine the very human element – I saw that you’re welcoming children on the OIA website and I thought how wonderful. And yet you’re able to do high tech business as well. Do you mind talking a little bit about how that works because I think that’s reflective of our whole community of what we want to continue of being able to do the human and the hi tech business.

I think we’re blessed with a community and I talk about the airport as being a focal point to the west of the attractions and the experiences. And then when you look east, it’s the technology, it’s space. and the airport is in the middle. And what this community has done and people don’t realize is certainly combine the human element of experience pushed or leveraged by technology. Because Martin Marietta discovered this area before Walt Disney discovered it. We’re in the crossroads. People can get here by road. We have the land. And so, the airport reflects that. We have had a number of firsts with technology. We just had a pilot program where you can check in online for your screening time. We had the first Doppler Radar. We had technology that allows you to chart your course through your iPhone, you know, point to point because there are beacons, that will guide you if you’re looking for your destination. You can do that. But it isn’t the technology for the technology’s sake. We have a strong commitment to the passenger experience. So how do you use the technology to create the experience? And what is surprising is people don’t realize that Disney uses more innovation and technology. The clean rooms we used to go in when I was working there, it was like a NASA facility. And so, you wouldn’t have all the fun if you didn’t have the technology to drive it. And, I think, this community has embraced it. They’ve embraced it silently for a long time.

And now, there’s a declaration that we will adopt and push and promote simulation, technology in all of those areas that make the area for business, leisure and for living a better experience for the visitors and for the residents. So that’s kind of neat because that is what people want. We said, “What did we do before iPhones?” We curse them sometimes, but you could call somebody and say, “Where are you?” Or, “How can I get to you?” Or that you can use your GPS, many times successfully, to get to your destination. So this community has always embraced technology, but probably hadn’t talked about it as much. Because the foundation is there. I mean, the space launch – we’re 45 minutes away from space in terms of what that brings and all of the things we use that are a results of the space program here. And I’m so glad that former Senator Nelson is heading up the space program now. And he’s local and understands the value that it brings to the community.

We certainly appreciate all the values that you have brought to our community… great style, impeccable. And yet, we know because of the position that you have it’s one of incredible responsibility…

Ms. Carolyn Fennell, Senior Director of Public Affairs for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, and Onyx Magazine’s 2021 Woman of the Year.

I run a 12 hour day most days. And you asked earlier about a day in the airport, you have to remember the impact there. You’ve got 23 square miles or so, the size of a city. You’ve got a 1,000 aircraft that come in and out. There’s 17,000 employees, not all of them are there at the same time. And you also have a 140,000 in peak time pre-Covid that are moving in and out. Not to mention 100,000 possible vehicles… But the strength of the community in having an airport like that is the strength of its employees. Phil Brown, who just retired, talked about his legacy was the employees. You have a group of dedicated people working. There’s so many facets of the airport. There’s no idea. It’s running a city. Just think of restroom cleaning, that’s a focus point. It can be as clean as it can be, but an aircraft comes in with 110 people, it changes. You think of a roadblock on Semoran or 436. It can back up. It can cause delays.  So we all that work there certainly in executive roles, we’re pinned to our phones. And that’s one of the jokes we had with Phil Brown we said, “You won’t have to carry but one phone now.” 

“I think you have human nature at its finest.”

I think you have human nature at its finest. People are coming to meet, to greet.  They don’t know what they’re going through or what they’ve left behind. Do I have my passport, my ticket, my driver’s license, my vaccine card? You know, do I have the dress, the blouse, the pants, the shirt for the event that I’m going to? Did I loose my wedding gown? We have a great story we tell about our lost and found finding a young woman’s wedding gown that she had somehow in the moment left… And then certainly we cannot forget there’s a safety and security issue always there, constantly there… And that’s good because safety is a priority. So it really is, I call it like a heartbeat or a moving organ. It never closes. So there’s always something. Joyous moments of teams arriving who have been successful. Or a celebrity that may come through or a cheerleading team that won something here and they break out into a cheer in the middle of the terminal and that’s kind of exciting!  So it’s as you can see we jokingly say, “The airport gets under your skin.” It creates a hyper moment at any time. The great thing for me though is that it represents Central Florida. And so, we talk about being having global sophistication and southern hospitality. 

And that is absolutely perfect. And you embody this to the quintessential… I’ve read you are considered to be one of the top power women in our area, our international city…

Well, I think, if I can interject for a moment, one of the things I tell young people, young women is to volunteer. You know, you’ve interviewed, you know the notables here: Linda Chapin, Glenda Hood, Toni Jennings, that talk about women. All of them have been volunteers. Sybil Pritchard, you can go down the names of people who have made a difference and part of that is volunteering.  So I say to people, “You’ve got to participate.” You know, you have Anita Wilson, and Mable Butler and the list goes on of people who have contributed outside of the scope of the identity they have. When I meet young professionals, and I remember meeting one and I said, “Well, you have to get engaged.” “No, our company doesn’t do that.” she said. “We just do our business.” I said, “If you want to succeed or to be engaged in this community, you’ve got to get involved. Whatever you choose, but be involved.” And that’s kind of the spirit, I think, it’s something that both Mayor Demings and Mayor Dyer both carried on that sense of engagement.     

And that engagement for the public good which it seems you have given your life to on a world scale.

It is a pleasure. I get the joke. Okay, what are you doing tonight? When Steinmetz opened I went to as many events as I could. Thanks to friends I remembered to go. I mean, I paid for it. I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t. But it’s like those are moments. Those exciting moments. Even the opening of the Winter Park Library, the opening of Steinmetz with the new hall. When the arena – we always have something going on here it seems. And the airport can be the connection for people of all kinds of all places. And that’s the thing that we’ve got to keep is an openness to cultures and to people to make us really a global community.

Well thank you so much for setting that standard for us. Thank you for your legacy to our area and thank you for coming to the Library to speak with us today. 

Thank you.

Did I answer all your questions?

Yes, thank you.


Interview:  Carolyn Fennell

Interviewer:  Jane Tracy

Date:  February 8, 2022

Place:  Orlando Public Library


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