Saturday, April 5, 2014

1990 :: C.R. Smith, Pioneer of Aviation As Head of American, Dies at 90


Note . . . Mr. C.R. is the son of Marian Smith nee Burck . . . who was the first president of the Rockdale Homecoming Association . . . and is a daughter of A.A. Burck . . . who was the first mayor of Rockdale . . .

Cyrus Rowlett Smith, an aviation pioneer who was the first chief executive of American Airlines and built it over three decades into one of the world's leading airlines, died yesterday after a long illness in Ginger Cove Life Care Center, a retirement community in Annapolis, Md. He was 90 years old and lived for many years in Washington.

Mr. Smith, a folksy native Texan who was known as C.R. and was called Mr. C.R. in the halls of American Airlines, served the company from its beginning in 1934 until 1968, when he resigned to become Secretary of Commerce in the last year of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Administration.

Mr. Smith's management style was distinctive. He would peck out notes, suggestions and criticisms on a typewriter to subordinates. He wrote his own speeches and even some advertisements for American, including a famous one in 1937 that dealt with the sensitive issue of airline safety. It was headed ''Afraid to Fly?'' In the quest for better service, he spent as much time as he could chatting with everyone from ticket takers to pilots.

At 74, Answering a Call

In 1973, at the age of 74, after serving several years as a partner in the investment banking firm Lazard Freres & Company, he was called back as chairman of American Airlines to restore economic vitality to the company. He headed it for five months until he found a replacement.

The only other hiatus in Mr. Smith's career at American was in World War II, when he helped organize the Air Transport Command and was its deputy commander.

Mr. Smith was born to poor parents in Minerva, Tex., on Sept. 9, 1899, the oldest of seven children. When Cyrus was 9 years old, his father abandoned the family and the boy began taking odd jobs.

He studied accounting and law at the University of Texas but did not have enough money to finish, his son, Douglas, said.

Mr. Smith, who came of age at a time of open-air cockpits, began his professional career at 16 as a bookkeeper and later worked as an accountant. In 1928, after leaving the university, he went to work as an assistant treasurer of the Texas-Louisiana Power Company. When its head, A.P. Barrett, bought control of an airline that carried mail, Texas Air Transport Inc., Mr. Smith became its treasurer and later financial vice president. Texas Air merged with a group of other small airlines to become American Airways in 1930, and he became vice president of operations.

'The Whole World All at Once!'

When American Airlines evolved in 1934, Mr. Smith became its president. Within five years it was one of the nation's leading airlines.

As he became more involved with airline management, Mr. Smith decided to learn to fly; as his son said, if he was going to run an airline he wanted to know about flying. He held a license for many years.

While flying over Arkansas one day in the late 1930's, he later recounted, he forgot to check the emergency fuel tank, ran out of gas and made a forced landing.

"This pilot came after me with a crew of mechanics," he said, "and while they were fixing up the wheel, the pilot politely suggested to me, the boss: 'You run the company, Mr. Smith. Let us pilots fly the planes.'"

In a 1950 interview, Mr. Smith was asked why he became involved in aviation. "The people in aviation made me want to get into it," he replied. "Vigorous people with a sense of humor, their minds big enough to think of the whole world all at once! People whose vision doesn't stop at the horizon."

When Mr. Smith left the Air Corps as a major general in 1945, he was credited with a major role in building the Army's worldwide air transport system. For his wartime service, he received the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Air Medal.

His civilian honors included the Wright Brothers and Billy Mitchell Awards.

Besides his son, who lives in Annapolis, Mr. Smith is survived by two grandchildren; a brother, Burck Smith of Los Angeles, and two sisters, Dorothy Walton of Santa Monica, Calif., and Mildred Muskavitch of Auburn, Calif. The New York Times, April 05, 1990, by George James

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