In celebration of Black History Month, Delta honored a man who is a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Eugene Harmond is the first black male flight attendant – or steward as the job was called at that time – to don the wings of Delta.
Several of Delta’s executives and other Atlanta community leaders paid tribute to Harmond in Tuesday’s ceremony, including Allison Ausband, Senior Vice President – In-Flight Service. In a heartfelt letter to Harmond, Ausband thanked him for his contribution to history and dedication to making Delta different. “For over four decades, Eugene has represented the best of our airline… playing an important role in writing not only Delta’s history, but our nation’s history as well,” she wrote. “We are proud and honored to have him among our ranks.”
Two of Delta’s other trailblazers were on hand to honor Harmond. Patricia Grace Murphy (pictured right) and Phenola Smith (pictured left) were the first and second black female flight attendants hired by Delta in 1966. Both had the opportunity to work alongside Harmond on several occasions. “He had and still has such a great personality and walked around with so much confidence and poise,” recounted Smith. “I always enjoyed flying with him.”
Before pursuing his dream of traveling the world, Harmond was a teacher. Then in 1973, he was hired by Delta as a flight attendant, entering into a profession that was predominantly white and female-dominated.
Like other black pioneers of his day, he faced a number of challenges throughout his career. One of those early struggles still stands out in his mind. On a layover in New York, Harmond was the last of his crew to sign in to the hotel. When he arrived, he was told there were no rooms left, even though it had been pre-booked by the airline. Discouraged but not defeated, he hailed a taxi and rode around all night looking for another place to stay. He never found one but says he didn’t let this one moment of injustice define him. “I didn’t take it personally. I saw beyond that,” he said. “Ever since then, I knew I not only had to represent Delta but also had to represent myself. I made it my mission to always go above and beyond in whatever way I could to demonstrate my true character.”
Harmond’s exceptional work ethic is still evident today. Supervisors and those who work with him shared several stories of how he shows up for duty three hours in advance, just to prep for the day ahead.
After gracing the skies for over four decades, Harmond says he has no plans to retire. “I’m just very proud to be a part of history.”