J. Fife Symington Jr.: A Life of Aviation and Adventure
J. Fife Symington Jr.’s life presents a compelling narrative of ambition, adventure, and resilience, shaped by his early fascination with flying and his subsequent endeavors in aviation and beyond.
Born in 1910 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Arabella (Hambleton) and John Fife Symington, his uncle, John Hambleton, a WWI fighter pilot and a founder of Pan American World Airways, significantly influenced his interest in flying. This early exposure to aviation set the stage for Symington’s future career path.
After completing his education at Kent School in Connecticut in 1929 and earning a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1933, where he was a member of the Ivy Club, Symington also engaged in equestrian sports, participating in notable point-to-point races.
His career trajectory took a definitive turn during the Great Depression. Borrowing money, Symington traveled extensively with Pan American, visiting destinations like Miami, San Juan, Trinidad, and South America. These travels culminated in him obtaining a pilot license, despite experiencing three plane crashes unscathed.
In 1934, he joined Pan American, initially assigned to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His return to the United States saw him take up the role of traffic manager when Pan Am opened a terminal near Dundalk in 1937.
Symington’s career further escalated in 1939 when Juan Trippe, the head of Pan American, sent him to London to establish an international office. There, he played a pivotal role in managing trans-Atlantic traffic for the U.S. Navy during World War II, serving as a lieutenant.
His association with Pan American ended in 1948 when he transitioned to the corporate world, becoming an executive assistant at the Chrysler Building. This move marked a significant shift from his aviation-focused career to a broader business role, demonstrating his versatility and adaptability across different professional landscapes.
Symington’s journey from a young man intrigued by aviation to a significant figure in the airline industry and beyond is a testament to his determination and ability to navigate the complexities of a rapidly evolving world. His story not only reflects the personal achievements of an individual but also encapsulates a fascinating period in aviation history.