Paul Gibson has lived a life of firsts.
First black officer at a major American airline. First black deputy mayor of the city of New York.
But he’s a tad too modest to come straight out and say it. Indeed, Gibson waited halfway through a lengthy telephone interview before sliding in the part about deputy mayor.
Perhaps that’s because his heart is in the community he serves and not his own list of accomplishments, which are frankly too numerous for him to recite in one sitting anyhow.
But the 75-year-old Jamaica resident is a treasure trove of stories.
When he served as deputy mayor in the 1970s under Abe Beame, Gibson prevented 50 acres of St. Albans Naval Hospital property from being turned into an animal quarantine farm by convincing the administration to create a park that the community would run. The cash-strapped city could hardly afford to do this. So his neighbors formed the Southern Queens Park Association, which Gibson now chairs, and to this day it owns and tends the Roy Wilkins St. Albans Park.
As president of the Jamaica NAACP, Gibson founded the first day care program out of the organization’s 1,400 branch associations, and he came up with the idea of forming an aerospace-oriented August Martin HS in the vacant school building once occupied by Woodrow Wilson HS.
Then there’s the story of how, although the third choice in a line of candidates for deputy mayor, he ended up landing the post because the first two had to drop out, leaving only Gibson.
“I didn’t want to be deputy mayor, I was happy with the airline,” he had told Archie Spigner when the district leader put Gibson’s name in the ring.
Yet despite his initial wariness Gibson served three years — one more than his initial commitment because of the city’s fiscal crisis — and he left behind legacies like the park.
As a vice president at American Airlines he became the first black officer of a major U.S. carrier, a status disputed by a close friend who had been appointed vice president at TWA four months earlier. But by then Gibson was already an assistant vice president, and the two used to jokingly bicker about whether that counted for the record books.
No matter. He derives his true bragging rights from a wife who’s always “giving me all the answers,” two accomplished sons and four grandchildren.
And as a parting gift from American, he received a prize of first-class travel for life after winning a job performance award. Needless to say, he now enjoys some well-deserved vacations, too.