ARLINGTON — Wednesday, Oct. 23, marked the end of an era for the city of Arlington and the Arlington Municipal Airport, as Arlington Airport Manager Rob Putnam was congratulated on his retirement from more than 32 years of service to the city, the past 21 of which have been spent at the airport.
While the afternoon's festivities remained casual throughout, a brief interlude of speeches from city officials was kicked off by Dale Carman, who's been with the Arlington Airport since 1998, has served as Airport Supervisor since 2004, and will be promoted to Airport Manager in Putnam's stead, when Putnam's retirement becomes official on Thursday, Oct. 31.
Carman briefly noted the 15 years that he and Putnam have worked together, before he turned over the floor to A.J. Chase, chair of the Airport Commission, who presented Putnam with a plaque on behalf of all the Airport Commissioners, past and present, in recognition of his positive contributions to the community, as well as the continuing effects of his legacy.
"Let me take off my mayor's hat here," said Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, who spoke instead as the executive director of the Arlington Fly-In since 1994, as she deemed Putnam "a lifetime friend of the Fly-In," entitled to free access for himself and his family, in recognition of his work on behalf of the Fly-In and the Arlington Airport since he became Airport Manager in 1999. "You were so interested in preserving the longevity of this event, and in doing what was best for the airport, that you're leaving a big hole in your absence."
Even when she shifted back to speaking as mayor of Arlington, Tolbert praised Putnam for his fairness and thoughtfulness in taking care to ensure that any course of action served the best interests of everyone involved, from the city and the airport, to the tenant recreational and business pilots who use the airport, to the point that she laughed and joked that she wouldn't accept his resignation.
"I've watched you negotiate incredible deals and develop an absolutely solid relationship with the FAA," Tolbert said. "With nearly 33 years of working for the city of Arlington, no one could doubt where your heart is. You understand our city as a whole, and you've invested in your staff like few managers I've known. So even after you retire, I'm asking you to stay in town, because we'll probably be calling on your wisdom."
Arlington City Administrator Allen Johnson cited the number of different roles that Putnam has served for the city over the course of the past three decades and change, before identifying a common thread in all of them.
"Rob has always been Mister Dependable," Johnson said. "If he told you he'd do something, you could take that to the bank. We've all appreciated his ability to be a team player, and not only does he always help when he's asked, but he usually does it unsolicited."
Putnam himself still recalls how he started out driving a garbage truck for the city in 1981, before he was promoted to its parks department of one, which eventually replaced its young volunteers and part-time employees with more full-time employees. Eventually, he found himself working in the city's parks, facilities, equipment and airport departments, which led to him serving as Airport Supervisor from 1992-99, before he was officially promoted to Airport Manager.
"They had me working as the interim manager for a year before they finally came out and told me I was the manager," Putnam chuckled, as he reflected on how much his lifelong hometown has changed. "We only had 2,500 people for so long. I was the only person in the parks department for my first year there, but we still had a ton of parks back then."
In more recent years, Putnam has witnessed the revitalization of downtown Arlington, the development of the airport's flight-line, and the arrival of not only hundreds more planes, but also corporate hangars. Among the highlights of Putnam's tenure at the airport cited by city officials were his establishment of an aggressive pavement preservation program, and his successful negotiations not only with a tenant to occupy and make improvements to the old Navy hangar, but also of a number of long-term land leases, to include all of the existing land leases along Taxiway C.
"The best part of it, though, has been all the nice people I've met and worked with," Putnam said. "The challenges of it were fun too. It was never the same job. There was always something new."
While Putnam plans to maintain his same address within the city limits, he will be trying something new again with trips to Alaska and Europe in the coming months.
With Putnam's retirement, the airport department is being reorganized, and combined with the city's community and economic development department, both of which will fall under the purview of Community and Economic Development Director Paul Ellis. This reorganization is intended to reflect the fact that the airport is the city's largest economic developer. As such, the permit center, as well as city planning and building functions, will be relocated to the airport, to provide a central permitting location for those wishing to develop in the city of Arlington. Potential developers of airport property will have the advantage of being able to have all their questions answered under one roof.