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Skycap at Bush Airport Hits 42nd Year on the Job


William Shepherd has worked at IAH since the day it opened in 1969


July 1, 2011



  © Houston Airport System
  William Shepherd (far right) says it's the bond he feels with his co-workers that keeps him coming to work after 42 years.
 
One by one they approach his work station with the same nervous energy, often speaking faster than normal and sporting a facial expression that’s usually reserved for roadside emergencies.

But somehow, over the course of the next five to 10 minutes, each of these airline passengers manage to walk away from the area with a completely different demeanor, perfectly at ease with the entire situation. When asked about the sudden transformation, one passenger simply explains, “the man in charge over there said I was fine.”

The “man in charge” is 64 year-old William Shepherd and he’s been assisting passengers both mentally and physically at George Bush Intercontinental Airport for more than four decades.

Working for Prime Flight Aviation Services, Shepherd’s primary job function is to assist Terminal A passengers with the curbside check-in process. But “Shep,” as he’s known around the workplace, says his role goes well beyond simple data entry and baggage handling.

“I absolutely believe that we are ambassadors for the airport and the city of Houston,” he says. “We’re the first ones that a lot of these people are going to come into contact with and that means their first impression is going to be based on how we treat them.”

It’s a belief and approach that Shepherd began developing about the same time that Neil Armstrong was launching giant strides on the surface of the moon. Told by a friend in 1969 that jobs were available at the “new” airport on Houston’s north side, Shepherd remembers undergoing training at a nearby hotel while the finishing touches were being applied at the two-terminal facility.

“It was very different back then,” Shepherd remembers. “We were wearing dress coats and white gloves and people would come out to the airport who weren’t even flying anywhere. They just wanted to see this new airport.”

Of course Shepherd would amass an amazing collection of stories over the next 40 plus years, meeting everyone from Sammy Davis Jr. to Muhammad Ali. One of his favorite stories involves singer Pearl Bailey, who passed through Houston after receiving a chair as a gift from President Richard Nixon following a White House concert. Speaking together outside the terminal, Bailey explained to Shep that her chosen airline didn’t want to allow her to transport the chair as luggage, despite the Presidential back story. Shep says he still laughs when he remembers Bailey’s solution. She simply bought the chair a first-class seat.

But it’s not the celebrities that have kept Shep coming back for more than four decades. “You have got to enjoy what you do and the people you work with,” he says.

“I get to argue politics and sports with people all day long and I get exercise at the same time. Most of the people I know who have retired wound up looking for another job somewhere so why in the world would I want to leave?”

Shep concludes that there is no reason to leave, and the rest of us can remain calm as a result. 
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