Lynne Denison Foster – BCAC Lifetime Achievement Award Winner in 2012

Jun 21, 2017

Written by, Nadine Wolitski

It was Lynne’s father, John, who inspired her to start a career in aviation.  John Denison first arrived in Yellowknife in 1947 as an RCMP officer.  Later, he started working for a trucking firm named Byers Transport where he was the Operations Manager.  Eventually the company was bought by Pacific Western Airlines and known as Pacific Western Trucking.  It was during this time that John built the first ice road in Canada, and because of his expertise and many experiences, became known as the original ‘Ice Road Trucker’.  It was this expertise that also made him the subject of the book ‘Denison’s Ice Road’ by Edith Iglauer.  Because of his outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and services to the nation, in October 1998 he was bestowed the ‘Order of Canada’ by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Lynne loves flying and remembers her first flight fondly, it was 1960 and she was 11 years old.  Lynne was flying over Great Slave Lake with her father in a small bush plane on floats enroute from Hay River to Yellowknife.  The next day, on her return trip, she was flying in the Bristol Freighter owned by Max Ward; Max was a good friend of her father.  This very same plane she flew home in is the one serving as a landmark near Yellowknife Airport today.

When Lynne completed high school she started studies at the University of Alberta.  The classes were large with up to 200 students and was overwhelming compared to the small high school she graduated from.  The drastic contrast made her feel like she wasn’t quite ready for university so she decided to find work.  Her first job was at the Yellowknife Inn.  Here she developed bonds with the pilots that stayed there while training on the Hercules for Pacific Western Airlines.  Knowing that Lynne had an interest in travelling and noticing the natural fit with the pilots at the Inn, John suggested she approach PWA’s reservations office in Edmonton for employment.

Lynne met the manager shortly after, and although it wasn’t an official interview, she was offered the job at the end of the meeting.  She was 19 when she started and until her retirement 48 years later, has continuously worked for only two employers, Pacific Western Airlines and BCIT.  Lynne will be the first to tell you about the power of networking and relationships because she held a variety of jobs and duties, but had never applied or officially been interviewed. 

At the reservations office Lynne answered phones for about 6 months.  During this time, because it was a manual operations system, she was given the added task of checking each reservation card.  Quality Control became a newly created position; each reservation card was checked before being sent by conveyor belt to the control room to be charted for a seat and then sent to the Records person.

Soon Lynne was sent to Vancouver for an International Fares course.  This acted as her first formal training.  The instructor was impressed with her natural instructing skills so he recommended to Lynne’s manager that she undertake the on-the-job-training duties in the office.  That is precisely what happened when she returned to Edmonton, Lynne now trained all new hires in quality control.

Next, in 1973, PWA converted to computerized reservations and bought space in Air Canada’s ReserVec System.  They called it ALFIE – Airline Flight Information Electronically.  All existing reservation and ticket agents were then trained by Air Canada.  Any future reservations that were already booked prior to this conversion needed to be re-entered electronically.  PWA chose three people to oversee this task in Vancouver.  Because these employees were originally trained by AC in ALFIE, they were the only ones who had the knowledge in the Vancouver office to the extent required.  Once it was completed and the other two employees went to payload control , Lynne stayed in reservations to troubleshoot and train employees unfamiliar with the system.

As PWA expanded more agents were needed, but the training manuals were written by AC and focused on their routes instead of PWA’s.  This opened yet another opportunity for Lynne – at 23, she re-wrote the training manual!  Because of her great success with the cross over process and writing the manual, in 1983 she was sent to Phoenix to help America West write their staff cross-utilization manual.

After five years of working in the Reservations Office where Lynne focused on training, troubleshooting ALFIE, and supervisions, the Training Department Director realized her primary function was actually an instructor.  In 1974 he decided she should report to Customer Service Training which now meant another title and boss for Lynne.  Once again, this all transpired without any interviews.

In 1979 Lynne moved from being in the downtown office to the PWA head office in Richmond.  Here she continued to train new hires and  conduct recurrent training in fares and ticketing.

Moving forward, the Director of Training now wanted to provide the customer service agents, which include reservations, airport and cargo agents, with improved customer service.  Lynne and her colleague were assigned the new task of developing a course that would meet this need.  During this time there was a group of Deans and professors from UBC, U of A, and U of Calgary that were hired to provide leadership training for PWA, but due to cutbacks it was postponed.  To the added benefit for Lynne and her colleague, the university team was assigned to provide support to them since they had already been paid.  Because of the added mentorship and advice received from the team, the course was a huge success.  The course was called ‘TLC – Improving Customer Relations’.  It was so successful that PWA marketed it to BC Transit and BC Ferries as a pre-requisite to the ‘Superhost’ course developed for Expo ’86.  Through all of this success, Lynne was afforded another opportunity as she was contracted to Arctic College to help develop a similar course in 1985.

In the spring of 1987 PWA bought Canadian Pacific and a new airline was created – Canadian Airlines International.  Lynne was recruited, as part of a small team from both merging airlines, to move to the CP Operations Centre and develop a training course named Genesis.  The aim of Genesis was to alleviate the negative impact of the two organizations merging.  Once this was completed she officially had a new job working for the Manager of Leadership Training.

Until 2000 Lynne worked for Canadian Airlines in Management and Leadership Training.  Eventually Canadian merged with Air Canada and because of high staffing levels, AC offered buyouts.  She volunteered for the buyout and retired on October 31, 2000.  In line with opportunities being placed in Lynne’s path all her career, she was presented with another opportunity before her buyout had been approved.  An ex-colleague, Cheryl Cahill, had shared information about an opportunity at BCIT and proposed a plan for the two of them to work there as a team.  The school was in the process of developing a new Airport Operations diploma program and needed someone to continue the work of someone that was leaving.  They wanted a person with course development and instruction experience.  Arrangements were made to meet with BCIT.  When Lynne walked into the meeting she was surprised to see an ex-colleague from Canadian.  Instead of Cheryl and her convincing the ex-colleague to interview them for the job, he spent  the hour convincing them they should take the job.  So while Lynne spent the summer of 2000 wrapping up her career at AC, she was spending a few hours each night after work developing curriculum for BCIT.  On November 1, 2000, Lynne started working at BCIT as a fulltime contractor for the next two years.  During this time she launched the Airport Operations program and developed the new diploma of technical studies – Airline and Flight Operations for Commercial Pilots.  As of April 2002, she became a full time employee, and in October 2002 she became the Chief Instructor.  In August 2009 Lynne retired as Chief Instructor so she could return to the classroom to do what she loved the most.

Fast forward to 2017 and Lynne is retiring… officially.  She has worked for the past 48 years continuously, the last 17 with BCIT, and is looking forward to her next phase of life where she can enjoy the ‘fruits of her labour’.  Lynne is grateful for so many people she has met along the way and the gifts they have given her. 

When asking Lynne if there were any stories that she was particularly proud of or stood out for her, she said there were a handful, but there was one that touched her.  A few years ago there was a young man in the Flight Ops program.  He didn’t have a lot of support and struggled with self-esteem in the past.  His dream was to be a pilot but didn’t think he could make it through the BCIT program.  Because of a few of the life-skills modules in the course he was able to find the courage to speak to Lynne about his insecurities and lack of confidence.  She suggested BCIT’s counselling and gave him an article to read about achieving personal power.  He listened, took it seriously, and applied what he learned.  He gained confidence and took control of his life.  When he graduated he was one of the first to be employed by an airline.  He often comes back to visit family and makes an effort to visit with Lynne.  When he does, he makes a point of saying thank you and that the best thing he ever did was come to BCIT.

When asking Lynne for her general advice to anyone she says.. “Work hard, always put forward your best effort and do whatever needs to be done so that when you are not there, you are missed and they want you to come back”.  A quote by Neale Donald Walsch she often refers to that expresses her philosophy is “If you want the best that the world has to offer, offer the world your best.”

 

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