By Marty Clear
Danny Phillips was a young man when he started work at Tampa International Airport. Not much more than a kid, really. The jobs he had had until then were the kind of jobs a kid has, the kind you keep for a few months and then leave without much thought.
The airport was young too, only about two years old. It was ultra-modern, almost futuristic, and people from Tampa would come out just to marvel at the driverless monorails and to drive down the spiral ramps from the parking garage. Phillips was hired as a mechanic.
"There was nothing much to do. Everything was new, so nothing ever broke," Phillips said.
That was 38 years ago. Phillips, now 58, has worked at the airport ever since, making him the airport's longest-serving current employee. Now gearing up for retirement on Dec. 31, he's looking back and looking ahead.
"I've been married to the airport longer than I was married to two wives," Phillips said, noting he's been married to his current wife, Ruby, for 27 years.
Phillips was drawn to his first job at the airport because it offered benefits. None of his previous jobs had.
Still, he didn't figure he'd stay too long. But then he started learning about electricity, first by working on baggage belts, and then going to a trade school after he finished his shift at the airport. He eventually became an expert in airfield lighting.
Now based at Tampa Executive Airport, he's in charge of maintenance for the three general aviation airports - Executive, Plant City and Peter O. Knight.
He supervises four people, but what he loves most is doing hands-on work himself, especially when it's outdoors. He recently oversaw the switch from conventional to LED lighting at Tampa Executive Airport.
"We're doing everything as green as we can here," he said.
After December, he's got a long list of projects around the house that he's been putting off for years. And he's looking at buying a motor home and exploring America. He and Ruby want to see the Grand Canyon, and maybe taking a cruise to Alaska. They'll also spend more time at their cabin in Southern Georgia.
"I'm an outdoors guy," he said. "I like hunting and fishing, so I'll probably be doing some more of that."
For the rest of 2012, he'll be spending his days at one of Hillsborough County's four airports. He doesn't have maintenance duties at Tampa International Airport these days, but he still visits often.
"I'm there about once a week for a meeting, he said. "I definitely feel a sense of ownership when I walk through that airport. I grew up there."