Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
San Mateo resident Gerald Little has worked at United Airlines for 64 years. He started with the company when it merged with Capital Airlines in 1961, when the Mainliner Stratocruiser was still in operation.
In the 1940s, the only jobs in Fairfax, Va. were either at the local gas station or hardware store, said San Mateo resident Gerald Little.
Little worked at the gas station and also cut lawns for some of his neighbors, including a pilot who worked for Capital Airlines based out of Washington, D.C.
One day the pilot went for a fill-up and asked Little what he wanted to do with his life.
“What are your plans? You can’t go nowhere here,” the pilot said.
Little really didn’t have a clue since he was still a teenager.
The pilot then asked Little if he was interested in a job at Capital and told him an interview could be arranged.
Little said “yes” and the pilot told him to show up at a certain time in a few days at National Airport.
“I’ll be there early,” Little remembers telling the pilot.
He showed up 30 minutes early to the interview and landed the job in 1949. To this day, Little still likes to show up early for work or any occasion really. He’s been late to work maybe twice in the last 20 years, he told the Daily Journal.
His first full-time employer Capital, however, merged with United Airlines in 1961, making it the largest airline in the country.
The airline then adopted its “Ocean to Ocean” campaign since it had previously only served the West Coast and Midwest.
Soon after the merger, United courted Little to come to San Francisco to work in its print shop. After coaxing his wife to make the move, the couple uprooted and landed in San Mateo, where they raised two children and still live.
Little is likely the air carrier’s longest-tenured employee as only one other in the company has at least 60 years with United, San Mateo County’s largest employer even after its major struggles the past decade.
Little became a master printer with the company, in charge of printing all kinds of forms, getting his hands wet with ink and learning how to operate all types of machines from negative makers to halftone printers.
“There were no computers back then,” he said.
United conducted an internal audit a few years ago and followed “us around,” Little said.
“When they follow you around, you know something is up,” he said.
The company ended up closing its San Francisco printing facility in 2011 but Little did not retire, instead finding a job in the company’s charitable giving division after working for 62 years in the print shop.
Little is 81 now and has no plans to retire and his wife still works too.
He shows up to work every day at the company’s Technical Operations Maintenance Office at San Francisco International Airport.
The building isn’t as bustling as it once was, however, as United’s workforce locally has dwindled from about 13,000 a decade ago to about 9,000 today.
“The hallways at United were like walking in San Francisco the day before Christmas, you had to get out of the way,” he said.
These days, his job includes fundraising for the multiple charities United supports such as the March of Dimes. He also helps put together events for the company.
His current boss Cheryl Martin, however, just retired Thursday, Oct. 17 after working at United for 35 years.
Little doesn’t want to retire, in part, because he has seen a number of old friends retire and then decline in health soon after.
“I’ve met some old friends in the park and they didn’t recognize me and barely spoke,” he said. “I don’t want to end up like that.”
The company has had its ups and downs but Little intends to stay with United as long as it keeps him, after all he traveled from one ocean to another to work for the storied airline.
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