NATCA Loses Two Family Members in February
Friday, February 24, 2012

This month, the NATCA family has suffered the loss of two great controllers and union men, who exemplified courage and empathy both professionally and in their personal lives.

Paul Dennis, a controller at Fargo International Airport (FAR) for nearly 25 years, was killed Feb. 11 in southern Haiti when he fell off a roof and suffered head trauma while on a mission trip. And Martin Cole, who had been with the union since its inception and most recently was a controller at Washington Center (ZDC), passed away on Feb. 18 after a lengthy battle with liver failure.

Dale Wright, NATCA’s Director of Safety and Technology, said Martin was a pioneer in developing safety and technology and was the first union member to serve on the executive board of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations.

“Martin was a trailblazer for NATCA,” Wright said. “Martin was a very caring and dedicated union brother. I am glad he was my friend.”

Martin was a native of Maine, and his memorial service will be held in Bath, Maine on April 14, according to the Caringbridge.org Web site set up on his behalf as he fought the effects of Hepatitis-C. Martin wrote that he had suffered from the disease since 1971, and had been battling liver failure since 2004. He leaves behind Peter, his partner of nearly 20 years, and his Caring Bridge page has been filled with condolence messages from former colleagues and friends across the nation.

Paul’s passing was much more sudden. A resident of Fargo, N.D., Paul was taking time off work to visit the disaster-plagued nation of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. He was part of a 22-member group that visited the island to help build a medical clinic near the border with the Dominican Republic.

According to a report in the Fergus Falls Journal, Paul was working on a roofing project when he lost his balance and fell to his death. Paul had visited impoverished parts of the Caribbean and Latin America over a dozen times in recent years on mission trips.

“That was the kind of guy Paul was,” said FAR facility representative Cory Retzlaff, who had worked with Paul for eight years. “He had a remarkable spirit for mission work.”

Originally from Kankakee, Ill., now an exurb south of Chicago, Paul had worked at North Dakota’s largest airport for 25 years and was a NATCA member from the beginning.

“It’s been a little quiet around here,” Retzlaff said in the week and a half following Paul's death. “It hasn’t been the same without Paul around."

In a letter to the control tower’s NATCA members following Paul's passing, Retzlaff recalled how Paul would always wear black to work during the white book years and how he could always be counted on.

“Paul was a by-the-book controller, even when the book continuously kept changing,” Retzlaff wrote. “Paul’s dependability was second to none.”

Both controllers leave behind legacies and memories that have touched countless people both inside and outside the union.