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First black flight dispatcher at Delta Airlines retires after 50 years

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Posted: Nov 1, 2018 10:19 AM

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    Atlanta, GA (WGCL) -- It's a bittersweet day for Joe Jackson. When he walked out the doors Wednesday afternoon, it would probably be the last time he will see many of his colleagues at Delta Airlines.

He's retiring from a 50-year career with Delta Airlines. Climbing through the ranks, he became the first African-American flight dispatcher and duty director in Delta's history.

Jackson tells CBS46, he started as a ramp agent in 1968 when he was just 20 years old.

“I was put in the bin where 500 bags came down the ramp,” Jackson told CBS46. “I’d throw them up the belt and up into a truck.”

Back then, he said he would've never dreamed of being a flight dispatcher or manager of a competitive department.

“The only thing you know is what you see,” Jackson said. “I saw people working the ticket counter. I saw people working baggage claim..I didn't even know what flight control was. I had never heard of it,” Jackson said.

Nervous and a little unsure, Jackson said he took the promotions and took the chances, studying and doing the work to get good at the job he loved.

Unknowingly, he was inspiring others who would come behind him.

“He's an excellent teacher and I've learned a lot,” said Michael Blakely, who trained under Jackson. “Flight control is a very hard position to obtain in the company, with Delta Airlines as it is to start with. So, just getting into flight control is hard and to be the first minority getting into flight control is even harder,” Blakely added.

Tim Rice worked in the same position as Jackson. They're professional relationship evolved into a friendship over the years. Often trading stories about life and family, even joking about astronomy.

“It always impresses me when someone does their job and always acts professional and does the job the same way, right until they walk out the door. And that's what Joe does,’ Rice said. “I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss him a lot.”

At his retirement celebration, colleagues gave Jackson a trailblazer award for becoming the first African-American to earn the positions he has held over the years. Humble and slightly reserved, Jackson said he never considered himself a pioneer of any sort, he was just doing the job he loved.

“When you're being yourself, you don't realize the impact that you are having on other's lives,” Jackson told CBS46. “Until I started hearing some of the congratulations I got on the 50 years, that's when it hit me that it was something special”

Senior Vice President of the Operations Customer Center, David Holtz said he started working with Jackson in 1979 in Florida.

“He is a consummate professional and a class act. Joe has been a stalwart for over 40 years, 50 years of aviation here at Delta,” Holtz said.

Now, looking back Jackson is satisfied. He says he feels good to finally be on his own time. He is planning to travel, with his wife, driving to all the beautiful sites across the country that they’ve flown above over the years.

“Tears did fill my eyes as I was walking,” Jackson said. “I was thinking this is it. I'm not going to come back after 50 years. This is it. And, it just really touched me.”

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