THANK YOU Mayor Gimenez for this tremendous honor and recognition for the GMAA. You are truly the “aviation mayor” and we look forward to working with you on projects in the future.
I would also like to acknowledge Mr. Lester sola, CEO of MIA, who is another strong ally of the GMAA.
Ladies and gentlemen, GOOD EVENING.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the premier event of the aviation industry in South Florida – the GMAA 91st gala. For those of you that don’t know, this organization and its founders had a crazy idea 91 years ago: lets open an international airport, and so, one year later, MIA opened, and since then, it continues to be the economic engine of our region.
Tonight’s gala is all about RESPECT. As in R-E-S-P-E-C-T from the song by the late, great Aretha Franklin.
First, I would like to give thanks and respect today to my wonderful board of Directors, please stand up and be recognized.
I challenged this board last year, to exceed what was a record gala in 2017, and they came through. This gala is the largest ever in our history, so was the golf tournament yesterday, and that means that next year we would have more money to give scholarships to young men and women, who are dreaming to become pilots, technicians, Air traffic controllers or aircraft mechanics, but do not have the financial means to accomplish it. We, at the GMAA want to facilitate the fulfillment of their dreams, and pave the road for them to become the next generation of aviators.
The next RESPECT goes to the students. You know, I have been involved in the GMAA for a few years, but it wasn’t until this year, that I had the privilege to sit and interview these amazing men and women, and I feel so privileged to have done so. You need to listen to their life story, and understand their struggles, to know why for many of us this is a mission, and a labor of love.
Take for example LUCAS BOTAZINI, a young man who is a father of 3 beautiful girls. He has served our country for 10 years on the National Guard, and he is currently enrolled in BCC, and working toward getting his pilots license. Last year he was injured and suffered financial hardship, and that’s why we stepped in to help him in his pursuit of becoming a pilot.
Or how about FRANCIS PINEDA, who was born in Nicaragua. She got her AA at MDC, and currently is enrolled in BCC, pursuing an Aerospace Science degree. She is doing all this while working full time and volunteering at MIA. why? As she says: “I am an Aviation lover”. we awarded Francis a scholarship so she could pursue her dream and become an Air traffic Controller.
Every one of these guys, has a story. Some have changed their careers because they realized their calling is in Aviation. We have a bio-technologist who left a promising career, and works full time in an electronics store, but his dream is be a pilot. We feel that our mission is to support them.
Tonight, we also honor, and give RESPECT to this year’s award recipients. They have all reached the top of the mountain, when it comes to their respective careers.
How about one of my idols, Judge Jay Cristol, receiving today the Pioneer award. He has made a name for himself as a tough but fair bankruptcy court judge, who oversaw some of the largest airlines’ bankruptcies. He first flew in 1945, when he was the first eagle scout in Dade county. He became a Navy pilot, flew in Korea, and eventually got a law degree and became a judge. But first, he worked hard, parking cars, working in a hotel as a youngster to pay for flight lessons.
Or, Willard Shepard, recipient of the Rickenbacker award. We all know him as the 5-time Emmy award reporter on NBC6. But Will is also a retired Lt. Col. Airforce pilot with multiple combat missions, an attorney and a philanthropist. A very accomplished individual who has covered and supported the aviation industry for many years.
I met my friend, Luis Morell, recipient of the Glenn Curtiss Award, when he worked for a company called Northwings, 20 years ago, as a junior accountant. Today, Luis is the President of Heico repairs, an MRO with multiple locations which employs thousands of people. I can tell you, that did not happen overnight.
Just ask John Dietrich, who is COO of one of the largest cargo airlines in the world, and receiving the Juan Trippe award tonight. He started working for Atlas Air in 1999, as an assistant General Counsel. He got busy shortly after when Atlas hit some major road blocks. He has been climbing up the corporate ladder ever since then to reach his current position.
Finally, there is Michael Kasbar, recipient of the prestigious Wright brothers award, who today runs the largest public company in Florida, World Fuel Services, – $35 BILLION in revenues. As Mike tells it, he went for an interview as an assistant baker in his native Brooklyn. He has come a long way.
You will hear more about these amazing individuals later on in the evening, but there is a common thread: they all built themselves from the ground up. They all supported themselves, studied and worked hard, and had a steadfast pursuit of a dream.
Booker T. Washington said: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
It’s a hard road, with many ups and downs, but to you, our scholarship recipients we say today: we support you, we believe in you, and one day in the future, you will stand here on this podium and accept an award for your life achievements. Give yourselves a round of applause for what you have achieved thus far. Finally, I want to give respect and love to a dear colleague and friend, Captain A.J. Tolbert who passed away untimely this year. A.J. was the Dean of the FMU aviation program, a retired AA pilot, and member of the GMAA board. We all miss A.J. who also embodied this spirit of overcoming obstacles and achieve the impossible. An educator who relentlessly pushed his students, to reach new heights. I urge you to watch a tribute video about his illustrious life coming soon on our web site.
And with that, I want to Thank you all, and enjoy the evening!