Like most teenage girls, Brenda Geoghagan had posters of her favorite rock bands on her bedroom walls.
Unlike most teenage girls, she also had posters of airplanes.
“I’ve always been obsessed with aviation,” said Geoghagan. “I used to fly a Cessna.”
Geoghagan, the director of guest services for Tampa International Airport, has worked for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority longer than any other current employee.
But it was her love of education, not her love of aviation, that brought her to her first job at the airport in 1978.
“I was working at Tampa General Hospital,” Geoghagan said, “and I needed money to go to school. The hospital job didn’t have that kind of benefits, so I started looking around for a job with tuition assistance.”
When she saw a listing for an entry-level position at Tampa International Airport, she immediately knew the job was just what she wanted. The fact that she would be working in aviation was a bonus; the real draw was that the job would pay for her to go to Hillsborough Community College.
In her first position, she worked as an office assistant to the legendary George Bean, who’s considered the father of TPA.
In person, she said, Bean was a pleasant but very quiet man, not easy to get to know.
“He didn’t say much,” Geoghagan said. “He was reserved, except when it came to business.”
She kept going to college, first at HCC and then at the University of South Florida. She had wanted a degree in mass communication, but a lot of the courses she needed were offered only during the day, while she was at work.
Finally, after seven years of full-time work and part-time schooling, she earned her degree in social and behavioral science from USF in 1985.
Meanwhile, Tampa continued to grow, and the airport’s new terminal – which was only about six years old when she came on board – continued to grow with it.
Geoghagan’s career at the airport progressed, but not in a conventional way. She didn’t usually advance by being promoted to the next logical step up the ladder. More often, the airport would undergo a reorganization, and the job she was in would change to reflect the new direction of the organization. Because she was so valuable to the airport as an experienced member of the team, she would invariably be reassigned to a new and challenging position with additional responsibilities.
“I didn’t know whether I could do it,” she said. “But my attitude was always, if I don’t try it, I’ll never find out what I'm capable of accomplishing.”
It was an extension, she said, of her risk-taking attitude of her youth, when she had posters of Lear jets on her bedroom walls, loved European cars and the trendiest fashions.
She’s been, among other things, the airport’s manager of employee relations, a position that grew to include public relations, advertising and public art duties.
In January, Geoghagan landed in the new position of director of guest services. She oversees the tour program, and she helped create the Volunteer Ambassador Program. Her volunteers staff information kiosks in the red and blue baggage claim areas and provide information about the airport and the community.
She had thought it might be difficult to find volunteers. She was hoping to get maybe a few dozen, but she already has well over 100 active volunteers, with more coming on board all the time. She’s working to expand the program to provide information in the international arrivals area.
Working at the airport still feels like an adventure to her every day, even after 35 years.
“I grew up in this airport,” she said. “And I still believe in its mission.”