Esther Turtle has been there, done that, and now wears her ‘wings’ with pride to mark a marathon 44-year career at the International Airport.
Our longest serving employee was presented with her service pin by airport Managing Director, Graham Keddie in honour of a unique personal milestone.
Back when she started in May 1971, Esther encountered her first celebrity with the return of Olympic Gold medallist, Mary Peters.
“I was in the admin staff and we were allowed onto the roof of the terminal to cheer her homecoming,” recalls Esther.
In a career packed with vivid memories, this airport stalwart also remembered the first time Concorde came to BFS, and that was to operate a BA shuttle flight to Heathrow. “The departing passengers did not realise they would be travelling in style to London.”
Throughout her career, change has never been too far away from life at the airport. First, there was the decision by the Government to sell the facility to a management-employee buyout. Then, TBI bought the business, which “made a lot of staff very happy as the majority were shareholders.”
Esther had two secondments during TBI ownership. The first took her to company offices in New Bond Street, London – “somewhere I would never have dreamt I would have had the opportunity to work” – and then to the MD’s office at Luton Airport.
She thoroughly enjoyed both postings.
Another high point was the first visit by President and Mrs Clinton. “To see Air Force One in the flesh, so to speak, was amazing,” said Esther.
Then, in characteristic Esther fashion, she relates with great enthusiasm a travel experience of a lifetime which she shared with her late husband, John, who also worked at the airport.
“We travelled home from JFK to Belfast International Airport on a direct Concorde flight. This was an amazing experience and the journey time was approx 3 hrs. It was a beautiful aircraft and the power on take-off was something else - it was like being fired off into space!!!”
And how does she sum up her years at the airport?
“The thing is, I only ever intended staying at the airport for a couple of years and then moving on but you get sucked in to this environment. The airport has been good to me and given me opportunities I might never have had.
“I do not know where the time has gone ... I think it is best summed up by saying ‘ you don't notice time passing when you are enjoying yourself’. I am sure there are quite a number of my colleagues who would agree with me.”
Graham, in tribute, said Esther was in a class of her own with a fervour and enthusiasm many found infectious. He added: “Quite simply, Esther is outstanding. She’s a role model, team player and a no-nonsense individual with a great Ulster sense of humour. What she doesn’t know about this business isn’t worth knowing, and I’m delighted this wonderful lady continues to share her vast experience with those of us who have some catching up to do.”