You are asking by now, who is Laura Lee? What is her relationship with Lawrence H. “Larry” Lee? Why did she publish his autobiography? What does she have to do with Western Airlines?
These are great questions, and I’ll try to answer them. I became Laura Lee in May of 1981 when I married Larry’s younger son, Randolph “Randy” Lee. Here’s a photo of us at our wedding in Portland, at the home of Phil and Ginger Stevens. We were married on May 22, just 11 days after I joined Western Airlines. My first job was working for Herb Jungemann in Denver Reservations.
When President Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers, things were in chaos for the airline industry. Flights were reduced, and I was furloughed from my job in Reservations. Randy and I took the opportunity to move back to the Salt Lake City area so that he could continue college; at BYU-Provo initially, which is where we had met, and then University of Utah where he received both his BS and MBA. I was eventually recalled to airport operations at the Salt Lake City airport. I worked on the ticket counter, gates, operations/departure control, as a supervisor on the ticket counter and gates, as a training instructor, and at the time of the merger with Delta Air Lines, I was the assistant manager for Passenger and Cargo Services Training out of LAXGO. (Western’s Los Angeles General Office) On occasion, I still see people at the airport in SLC, now supervisors or managers, that I had the privilege of training as newly hired employees. This always brings a smile to my face! 🙂
Another thing I enjoyed was when other employees would ask how Larry was doing. And, since I worked in Central Training and trained and knew people from all over the system, often when Larry was at an airport, an employee at the ticket counter or gates would ask him how I was doing! From the very beginning, we had a fine rapport.
I took on the project of publishing Larry’s autobiography for many reasons:
- It’s an amazing story of teamwork, dedication and truly “riding for the brand.” The term “riding for the brand” has its origin in the West. Cowboys would often be loyal to the ranch, or the “brand,” even if they disagreed with a current owner. The “brand” was a unique symbol and represented the values and traditions of the ranch.
- Salt Lake City continues to experience growth and the economy is vibrant. Without Larry’s work on the “hub,” would Salt Lake City have been in the position to host the 2002 Winter Olympics? Truly, Salt Lake City has never been host to a grander event! Perhaps, after the completion of the new airport, the city will once again host the Olympics.
- Without Larry’s invitation to take on more responsibilities, would Jerry Grinstein have had the experience necessary to guide Delta Air Lines through its own bankruptcy? Truly these two men have been GIANTS on behalf of Utah business!
- Management CAN work with unions to accomplish great things. This takes vision and both sides must feel represented and invested in the outcome. Larry implemented profit sharing for the employees, and also gave Western’s unions the chance to be represented on the board of directors. This was unheard of at that time.
- Corporate America is full of raiders and self-interest. Larry’s story is just the opposite. He led by example, took pay cuts, and truly brought his beloved Airline back from the edge of bankruptcy and into historic profitability.
- I want Larry’s posterity to understand more about his leadership, his life’s work, his values and his faith.