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Stepping down after 15 years
John Graham will leave his position as the Iqaluit airport manager on Feb. 3

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 26, 2012

IQALUIT
During his 15 years as the Iqaluit airport manager, John Graham met countless movie stars and heads of states, but what he said he is most proud of, as he looks toward leaving the post on Feb. 3, is the safety record he maintained during his tenure.

NNSL photo/graphic

Iqaluit airport manager John Graham stands in front of the Airbus A-380 when the plane came to the city to conduct cold-weather testing in February 2006. Graham will retire on Feb. 3 after 15 years as the Iqaluit airport manager. - photo courtesy of John Graham

He estimates more than 1.2 million passengers safely transited through Iqaluit's airport, about 250,000 takeoffs and landings were safely processed and countless million pounds of freight were successfully handled.

"That's the bottom line for measuring success at an airport is the safe moving of people, airplanes and freight," he said. "That's why I take the most pride in that."

Graham, who turned 55 on Jan. 23, will stay in Iqaluit and start a new career around Feb. 6, if everything goes according to plan, he said, but he wouldn't divulge more details. He retired first, he said, and then the opportunity came up.

"Thirty-one years is quite a long time, especially the last 15 years in Iqaluit because this has been more than a job for me it's been a way of life, it's been a passion," he said. "It's also totally consuming 24 hours a day, seven days a week because this place never sleeps."

Born in Selkirk, Scotland, some 62 km south of Edinburgh, Graham originally wanted to join the Royal Air Force after finishing school. However, he ended up moving to Canada at age 19 in September 1976 to work for the Hudson's Bay Company trading post in Iqaluit. On days off, he would hang around the airport.

Five years later, he started his 30-year career in the airport business, spending the first 15 years looking after the Baffin region airports from Grise Fiord to Sanikiluaq.

"Those were very interesting years," he said. "It was fun to work with the different community councils and all the different airport maintainers and observer-communicators that worked at each one of those airports."

On Aug. 14, 1996, he became the Iqaluit airport manager, first arriving as a relief for someone going on a six-week holiday.

"So I came down here, my first day, to sit and review the airport emergency plan, and 20 minutes later, a Canadian Forces F-18 fighter went off the runway and exploded and the pilot ejected," he said. "That was definitely the first memory. There's so many, many, many more."

Graham worked on many state visits, such as with the German Chancellor, the president of France, the Queen during the 2002 Jubilee tour, and has met numerous VIPs, movie and pop stars. He notes Iqaluit is halfway between Europe and California.

"The one I was truly impressed with would be Dan Rather, the CBS news broadcaster. I think he was the most interesting person I ever met here at the Iqaluit airport," he said.

Other memorable moments he mentioned include the 2002 Arctic Winter Games that brought some 300 planes over a two-day period at the airport. The airport had never been so busy since the days of the DEW line construction from 1955 to 1957, he added.

Graham is married to Eva Michael and they have five children four girls and one boy now aged 16 to 32.

As he is about to retire as the airport manager, he said he's ready to move on.

"I've loved every minute of this," he said. "It's going to be kind of different."

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