A couple of Fridays ago, May 2 to be exact, I was scheduled to have a call with former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar. We’d been working together on some projects with National Strategies, LLC, a firm he had introduced me to and helped recruit me as a Senior Advisor (he was also a Senior Advisor). We had a big conference call scheduled for the morning of Monday, May 5, and before that, we were going to discuss some of the issues.
When he didn’t call, I figured he was just busy and offered my thoughts in an e-mail. He wrote right back, apologizing for losing track of the time, and said he thought we had what we needed. Since it was 6 PM, I figured I’d leave him alone, and we would do the conference call on Monday.
With all that, you can imagine how shocked I was to learn the very next morning that he had passed away in his sleep overnight. He was 79 (two days older than my own father), but he was in great shape and had been telling people how many miles he planned to bike in 2014. I’m sure he’d already thought about how many miles he planned to bike for the next decade. He had agreed to participate in an oral history project at the DePaul University Law School, and I was to be the interviewer. He was looking to the future with great gusto.
I first met Jim Oberstar in 1993, during the deliberations of the Baliles Commission. He was mostly unhappy that our recommendations didn’t mesh exactly with what he thought we should do. The main issues were air traffic control and Computer Reservation Systems, though there were others as well. But he gave us great credit for the work we did and the motives with which we did it. Over the years, we often agreed, and often disagreed. This became especially true when I took over as President of Airports Council International – North America.
It was my job to advocate for my members and his to do what he thought best for the overall system. Often, we were on the same side, especially with regard to raising the passenger facility charge user fee limit. I still remember the first time I testified before his committee. Afterwards, he sought me out to tell me he thought I did a good job. Needless to say, this was a highlight of my ACI-NA tenure.
In the end, I will always remember this about Jim Oberstar: whenever a change to our aviation system was proposed, the lens he would use to examine it was, we have the safest, most secure system in the world, and we need to keep it that way. Will this idea enhance that, or detract from that? Sometimes I didn’t agree exactly with his conclusion, but it was hard to argue with his motives. Especially when he would come back at you in French, or Italian, or Latin, or….
Jim Oberstar. Great American and a good friend. RIP.