(CMR) Cayman Airways station manager at Tampa International Airport (TPA) Joe DeCesare is to retire after a 55-year tenure at the airport.
DeCesare (86) began his career in 1965 and currently holds the record for the longest tenure at TPA, even longer than the 1971-built facility itself, Tampa International Airport news reported.
“I’m 86. I just think it’s just time to take a break,” DeCesare told TPA news.
Cayman Airways CEO Fabian Whorms hosted a retirement celebration for DeCesare recently, telling him thanks from the Caymanian people for his decades of service.
According to the TPA website, DeCesare got his start in aviation at 20 years old when he took a job at New York's Idlewild Airport, later renamed JFK after President Kennedy's assassination. His father tried to convince him to take up a trade like cabinet-making, but DeCesare knew he wanted to work in aviation.
He said: “I took an airplane ride at the age of 10 years old and said, ‘This is where I want to be.'”
DeCesare worked with Delta Air Lines before he was drafted and sent to serve in the U.S. Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in the West German-Czechoslovakian border in the Alps.
When the Jeep he was driving hit a rock and became disabled, he was stranded on the mountainside for five days in the snow. According to TPA news, he still has no feeling in his fingers due to the days of severe cold.
On his return to the U.S., DeCesare put in a transfer request with Delta for an open position in Tampa.
In 1971, he was offered a job as an assistant manager with startup airline Air Florida, and within three years, he was promoted to station manager.
The 1982 Air Florida flight 90 crash into the freezing Potomac River, killing 74 of the 79 people on board, became a turning point for him.
The airline never fully recovered from the incident, and DeCesare accepted when Cayman Airways offered him the position of the station manager.
“It was a different experience because I had never dealt with international flights. The people were so fantastic,” recalled DeCesare.
DeCesare stayed with the airline for the next 36 years, enjoying the airline's unique culture and friendly repeat travelers, many of whom he knew on a first name basis.
“There's probably over 300 or 400 of them that have my personal phone number, and they call me the day before they're leaving to let me know they're coming,” said DeCesare told TPA news.
DeCesare says he will miss the relationships with his coworkers and customers the most.
DeCesare's final day at work will be at the end of June, when he will finally have time to take vacation trips to the Cayman Islands to visit his many passenger friends.