Gary Hemphill, In Remembrance

The members of the National Intercollegiate Flying Association Council and Board are sad to announce, and grieve the passing of Gary Hemphill, longtime NIFA Executive Director, Sunday evening in Monroe, Louisiana. He was 71.

Gary’s involvement with NIFA began in 1978 when, as a student, he participated in the Region IV airmeet held at Killeen, Texas. For the next three years, Gary participated in NIFA regional and national SAFECONs as both competitor and support personnel. In 1979, Gary acted as the public relations coordinator for the Thirty-First Annual SAFECON hosted by Northeast Louisiana University at Monroe, Louisiana. In the fall of 1980, Gary was appointed the advisor to the Region IV SAFECON to be hosted by NLU later that year. Following the withdrawal of the invitation from the host school of the 1981 national SAFECON, three months prior to the airmeet, Northeast Louisiana University was asked to host. Gary was again appointed the NIFA SAFECON Advisor.

In 1984 Gary was asked to serve as the Region IV representative of the NIFA Council by UAA President Lee Orht. He served in this capacity and as the Council Recording Secretary until his appointment as the Executive Director in 1985.

Gary’s background outside of NIFA activities was varied. In 1970, Gary served with the United States Air Force’s 388th Combat Support Group at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, as an aircraft electrical repair technician. Following service in Southeast Asia, Gary was assigned to the Air Force Systems Command’s Weapons Development Center at Kirkland AFB, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Gary’s duty with the Weapons Development Center allowed him to work with aircraft which included: F-100, F-4E, B-52, KC-135, C-130, T-29, F-104, T-38, WB-56, RB-66, C-121, F-105, A-4, and T-39’s.

After serving with the USAF, Gary attended Northeast Louisiana University where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management in 1976. In 1979, Gary completed degree requirements for a Bachelor of Science in Aviation, again at NLU. And in 1980, Gary began work on his Masters degree. During this time, he was a graduate assistant in the Aviation Department at NLU teaching classes and coaching the NLU flight team. After receiving his Master of Education degree, Gary was hired by Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, where he was an instructor, teaching primary ground instruction, passenger transportation, aviation weather, and aviation law among other subjects. Gary was, until his appointment as Executive Director, the advisor to the DSU Flight Team and advisor to the Delta Psi Chapter of Alpha Eta Rho.

The vote to appoint Gary took place in September 1985 but he assumed the role with the New Year in 1986. He was handed a grocery bag of receipts from the prior Executive Director, Harold Wood, that comprised the complete files and records of NIFA at that time. Under Gary’s leadership, direction, and support, he continually created opportunities for NIFA to be a much more professional organization. His focus was always the student competitors, first and last.

During Gary’s tenure as Executive director from 1985 to 2011, he created, managed, and/or oversaw:

  1. A vast archive of information about NIFA. The organization went from a grocery bag to an apartment (that he himself paid for) full of boxes that contained NIFA’s history with records of competition events, registrations, sponsorships, and more.
  2. An organized SAFECON Checklist to make it easier for schools to host a SAFECON and to create a more consistent SAFECON event at both the regional and national level.
  3. Visits to bidding schools to ensure the school was capable of hosting a national SAFECON. (This did not happen prior to Gary’s leadership.)
  4. An organized and script-led banquet event, including the all too important photos of the event winners to ensure that sponsors received due credit for their support of the organization.
  5. NIFA broke away from the University Aviation Association in 1996; from 1956 until 1996, the UAA appointed NIFA Council Members at the discretion of the UAA board. Gary led the effort to make NIFA a more independent organization.
  6. The creation of NIFA’s first website.
  7. The transition to computerized scoring.
  8. The transition to a GPS-scored navigation event.

This list is incomplete, but representative of how Gary forged NIFA into a more effective and professional organization worthy of promoting in the aviation community.

While Gary served as Executive Director, he made his living as a Professor of Aviation at Delta State University. He eventually was appointed as Department Chair and worked in that capacity until his retirement in 2003 when the NIFA Council decided to make the Executive Directorship a full-time position. How Gary did the two jobs simultaneously is beyond anyone. He basically worked two full-time jobs. Being an academic chair is a time consuming, relentless position yet Gary devoted the same level of effort and professionalism to that job as he did to NIFA. In addition to working both positions, Gary took care of his aging mother after his father died in the late 1990’s.

Not only did Gary carry NIFA on his shoulders and in his heart for over 26 years, but without him NIFA would not be where it is today.

In 2011, NIFA awarded Gary its highest honor, the Founder’s Award, for his dedication and service to the organization. There have been only 10 recipients of this award in NIFA history. NIFA owes Gary much more than this award. NIFA owes its future to Gary.

Smooth air and tailwinds, friend, as you fly west.

Gary Hemphill (1949 – 2020)