What NOT to do when a beloved Senator dies

Recalling the embarrassingly short life of Henry M. Jackson International Airport
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Runway 34R-16L at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (Chuck Taylor)

Recalling the embarrassingly short life of Henry M. Jackson International Airport

As the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts lies in repose at the JFK Library near Boston, it'ꀙs worth looking back more than 25 years ago for a local example of what NOT to do when a beloved lawmaker passes away.

The late summer days of 1983 were heady times, with President Reagan in the middle of his first term and the Cold War all tied up but not quite into extra innings yet. It was against this backdrop on September 1, 1983 that a Soviet fighter plane downed Korean Airlines flight 007, an Everett-built Boeing 747 jumbo jet that had strayed off course and into Soviet airspace near Sakhalin Island.

Accusations and conspiracy theories flew round-trip: that the jet was on a U.S. sponsored 'ꀜspy mission'ꀝ to test Soviet air defenses, or that the Soviets were out to kill an anti-communist U.S. Representative who was aboard. It was probably a more mundane navigation error combined with catastrophic communications failures that led to the jet'ꀙs destruction — but that would come later.

Meanwhile, Washington'ꀙs other Everett-built wonder, veteran U.S. Sen. Henry M. 'ꀜScoop'ꀝ Jackson, was in the thick of the American reaction to the downing of the jet. And it was in the midst of this tumult that Sen. Jackson died suddenly of a heart attack, and the state went into political shock.

Acting swiftly to honor the fallen lawmaker, Port of Seattle officials quickly renamed Seattle-Tacoma Airport after Jackson. I was just a kid, but I remember taking a car trip with my father to Henry M. Jackson International Airport (they changed the illuminated panels on the main sign —the one that also gives the time and temperature — on the airport access road that comes in from the north). This humdrum mission to pick up my sister was to be the only time I ever went to Henry M. Jackson International Airport.

It seems the Port acted too quickly to honor Scoop. Multiple civic and business leaders in Seattle and Tacoma, fearing economic fallout from this form of geographic dissociation, objected to having their respective cities'ꀙ names removed from the airport (and airport signage, airline schedules, luggage tags, travel books, and so on). The controversy raged for months. Then, in early March of 1984, the Port reversed its decision and re-renamed the airport. Sea-Tac was back to stay.

Back in Boston, I'ꀙd guess that Logan Airport is safe for the foreseeable future. Just think what having two Kennedy Airports would do to air travel in the northeast.


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