Monday, December 26, 2011

Dawn Howard keeps Louisa flying straight. Louisa County Airport/Freeman Field (KLKU) Louisa, Virginia.

Dawn Howard first applied to the Louisa County Airport more than 20 years ago.

LOUISA — Dawn Howard never expected the job application she submitted to the Louisa County Airport more than 20 years ago would change her life.

Howard was working at a grocery store in Richmond when she noticed the advertisement for an assistant at the airport and decided to apply. She said her mother even discouraged her because she knew of others more experienced who had applied and not received a call back.

But Howard applied anyway and was surprised to get an interview.

“I remember the ad said they were looking for someone with computer experience and I didn’t have any computer experience,” Howard said. “I told them, and they hired me anyway.”

Although initially inexperienced with no real knowledge of the aviation industry, Howard took it upon herself to learn everything she could about the inner workings of the small airport, said her former boss, retired Navy Adm. Dewitt L. Freeman. She soon took over many of the duties he was doing as airport manager and made herself invaluable to him.

“She worked me out of a job,” Freeman said. “She’s a self-starter and very dependable. You don’t have to tell her what to do … she doesn’t just sit around and wait to be told what to do next. She just does it.”

Howard said Freeman, whom she calls “The Admiral,” gave her a piece of advice early on that she has carried over into every aspect of her life.

“He told me to ‘Always do what you say you’re going to do and if you don’t just let me know,’” Howard said. “Those words changed my life because they gave me the freedom and inspired me to always do what I said I was going to do.”

Freeman was one of the creators of the airport and it was named in his honor in 1984.

After years of learning the ropes from Freeman and others, Howard was appointed the airport manager in 2004. She now serves on various airport boards and mentors other small-airport managers.

“The Admiral gave me a leg up in the aviation industry that I will never forget,” Howard said. “Instead of having to build support up, he endorsed me and it made a difference. It wasn’t a popular decision when he wanted to hire me as the airport manager … I’m sure there were some pilots who said, ‘She’s not a pilot, she’s a woman.’”

Over the years, Howard took over running the annual airshow and became involved in various community activities to collect food and toys for families in the community. She gives tours of the airport to school and community groups and even keeps gasoline in a “courtesy car” pilots can use to drive into town if they fly in for a visit.

“Dawn is the best organized airport manager that I work with, and I work with more than 60 airports in various states,” said Ray Conlon, vice president of the navigational division of Austin Electrical Construction in Buchanan. “She’s a people person and is always involved in a lot of community things. She does a world of things for the community … anything she can do to help the community she will step up and do. She’s a real asset.”

Earlier this year, Howard was named Virginia’s aviation manager of the year in honor of her years of service and dedication to the airport industry. The airport, which now has a waiting list for hanger space, remains a top priority for a woman who still believes in the power of being positive.

“This is truly my dream job,” Howard said. “I get to work with so many great people and have a chance to do so many things. I’m very fortunate.”

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