Jordan, who co-founded ValuJet Airlines and retired from AirTran Airways following the merger with Southwest Airlines, is a Griffin High School graduate and former Griffin Daily News carrier.
“It’s the first time in 49 years I’m not in the aviation business,” Jordan said.
While born out of state, when his father was stationed in the Army, Jordan grew up in Griffin, graduated from Griffin High and was a carrier for The Griffin Daily News from the age of 12 to 14, first on a bicycle then on a motor scooter at age 14, he said.
“I had the largest route of anyone,” Jordan said. “As people left, I’d ask for their routes. It was the first indication of entrepreneurship. I’d hire the younger boys to help throw the papers and collect the route.”
He said that experience “was really a life lesson. If you didn’t collect the route, you didn’t get paid.”
Jordan attended Georgia Tech, working his way through in the co-op program, majoring in aerospace engineering. As part of the co-op, he began his aviation career at age 17, working at Southern Airways at the Atlanta airport. After graduation he was offered a full-time position and worked at Southern Airways for five years, before going to work for the world’s largest air cargo company, Flying Tigers.
After being promoted to senior vice president of operations, “which put me in charge of all pilots,” Jordan said, the company wanted him to get a pilot’s license so he could understand the pilots’ concerns. “I took flying lessons for three days a week for nine weeks and passed my test.”
He said he never pursued commercial flying, and his license is currently not active.
From Flying Tigers, he joined Continental Airlines in 1986 as executive vice president, and was named president in 1991.
“I left in 1993 to come back home,” Jordan said, as he returned to Atlanta to start ValuJet.
While there were other co-founders, “I was the only person there from day one until the last day,” he said.
He stayed with ValuJet through the merger with AirTran and he left after the merger with Southwest.
Jordan stayed close to Griffin, in Peachtree City or Newnan, when heading up ValuJet and AirTran. so he could get to the airport quickly as the job sometimes required, he said.
His roots remain in Griffin, though.
“My mom and grandparents lived out their lives there,” he said.
The city of Griffin recognized Jordan in 1995, proclaiming a day as Lewis Jordan Day.
He hadn’t been back to Griffin for a while, but at the ceremony, Jordan said, the first person he saw when he came in was Sonny Lawler, “a great hero of ours.”
Lawler was a well-known amateur boxer throughout Georgia in the 1950s, holding the Georgia Golden Gloves middleweight title for two years before joining the Griffin Police Department in 1960. Jordan recognized the uniformed police officer as Lawler, who he was friends with “way back when.”
At the 2013 Annual Enshrinement Banquet at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, on April 27, Jordan and Alexander, a current Griffin-Spalding Airport Authority member, aviation businessman and founder of the Candler Field Museum and Barnstormer’s Grill, will be inducted with Samuel Winn Baker, an aviator from Brunswick, who has more than 40,000 flying hours over more than 50 years, without incident.
For more information on the Museum of Aviation and the Hall of Fame visit www.museumofaviation.org. Tickets to the black-tie banquet on April 27 are $75 each, of which $35 is tax-deductible.