Long after the glory days of air travel disappeared, Robert Reardon exemplified just how glamorous flying could be.
Passengers stopped wearing suits and fine dresses, but Reardon continued carrying his polished James Bond-style briefcase. He changed his shirts midflight — sometimes more than once — so that he always would be seen in a crisp, clean button-up.
“Before every trip, he got his hair cut and his suit cleaned and pressed,” said Bruce Retrum, a fellow flight attendant and friend. “He was just an elegant guy — a consummate professional.”
Reardon’s devotion to the airways earned him a record-setting career and two spots in the Guinness World Records 2013 edition — oldest active flight attendant and the longest career as a flight attendant. He worked at Northwest Airlines and then Delta Air Lines for 62 years and 8 months, before finally retiring at 90.
On June 3, Reardon responded to his final boarding call. He died 27 days after celebrating his 92nd birthday.
After graduating from high school, Reardon was drafted by the Army and served in World War II from 1943 to 1946. Honorably discharged at the rank of sergeant, he enrolled in classes at what was then the College of St. Thomas and studied French.
“The thing that always impressed me was his courage,” said Reardon’s youngest sister, Bernadette Reardon. “He was just a farm kid from Waverly, and he saw there was more out there in the world.”
In 1949, Reardon took what was supposed to be a temporary job at Northwest Orient as a ticket agent. Then, in 1951, he began working as a purser (head flight attendant).
Reardon’s favorite plane to work in was the Boeing 747-400, known as the “Queen of the Skies.” This is the biggest plane in Delta’s fleet with an upper deck that has 24 business class seats.
Up until the end of his career, Reardon maintained a full flying schedule, working flights to Tokyo several times a month. Many of his co-workers maintained it was an honor to serve alongside him.
“He went about his duties as if [it] were back in the ’50s, the glory days,” said Retrum, who added that few flight attendants work past age 70.
Reardon often joined in on the jokes about his age, saying he’d die on an airplane.
On a Facebook page set up to honor him, Terry Luoma recalled his last time running into Reardon at Narita International Airport in Tokyo.
Luoma wrote: “Way to show ’em Bob. You told me once that your goal was to outlive all your emergency contacts.”
Passengers adored Reardon, too, especially in his final years. They’d ask him to pose for photos and video, and he’d happily oblige.
Jane McNulty, a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, said: “When he would have his picture taken with you he would say, ‘Look expensive!’ ”
Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Church of St. Mary, 606 Elm Av., Waverly, Minn. Visitation continues from 9 to 10:45 a.m. at St. Mary’s Parish Center in Waverly. Interment with military honors will be in St. Mary’s Cemetery.