Local Obituaries

Samuel Higginbottom, former president of Eastern Airlines, dies at 95

Samuel L. Higginbottom, former president of Eastern Airlines, died Sunday at 95.
Samuel L. Higginbottom, former president of Eastern Airlines, died Sunday at 95. Courtesy of Jana Higginbottom

In nearly a century of life, Samuel L. Higginbottom came to realize the world was slowly becoming one, each country dependent on each other.

As president, chief operating officer and a director of Eastern Airlines in the 1960s and 1970s, Higginbottom strove to hire applicants based on merits, not skin color or country of origin, said his son, S. L. Higginbottom.

“He said, ‘That’s the way the world would be in the future,’ ” Higginbottom Jr. said.

His second wife, Jana Higginbottom, remembers a man who welcomed others for their differences.

“The funny thing is that my husband, he would never ever once correct my English. He was so amazing,” said Jana Higginbottom, who still has hints of her Brazilian heritage when she speaks English.

Her husband died Sunday after a battle with several illnesses, including COPD, this year. He was 95.

An Ohio native, Higginbottom came to Miami in the mid-1960s to work for Eastern Airlines, then a dominant name in air travel. Prior to moving south, Higginbottom enrolled in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and received a Bronze Star for his service. He attended Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and eventually become senior vice president of engineering and maintenance at Trans World Airlines.

His passion wasn’t flying and aviation as much as it was business, said Jana Higginbottom.

In a 1991 Miami Herald article, Higginbottom’s contributions to Eastern were highlighted in just those terms: “Samuel Higginbottom was responsible in part for major expansions of the Engine Service Center during the 1960s when he persuaded the airline to do maintenance on jet engines for customers other than Eastern,” wrote then-Business Monday editor Larry Birger.

Logically, perhaps, Higginbottom went on to become the chairman and CEO of Rolls-Royce Inc., the U.S. affiliate of the aircraft engine manufacturer and British car company, in 1974 after three years as Eastern’s president. For his contributions to the industry and his work with Rolls-Royce, Higginbottom was named an Honorary Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

He retired from Rolls-Royce in 1986 and settled in Miami.

That’s where he met and married Jana Higginbottom in 1998, following the death of his wife of nearly 50 years, Fair, from Alzheimer’s.

“He was brilliant,” said Jana Higginbottom. “We would go out and have lunch, dinner, whatever, we would always always have something to talk about. I never had to look in a book anymore because he would always have all the answers.”

Following his retirement, Higginbottom remained involved in the business world. He served on HEICO’s board of directors since December 1989, a position he held at the time of his death. Higginbottom was also on the board of aerospace firm British Aerospace Holdings and served as a director of First National Bank of Miami, now part of Wells Fargo, and AmeriFirst Bank. He also served as vice chairman of the board of trustees at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens.

“His insight into business, world affairs, education and people were legendary and I counted on him for his wise counsel over the course of several decades,” said Laurans Mendelson, HEICO’s chairman and CEO. “He was a key leader and developer of the U.S. aviation and airline industries where he helped usher in the Jet Age.”

Among his other interests, said wife Jana, were fishing, cooking (“I never had to cook a Thanksgiving dinner,” she said), tennis, golf, and — most of all — cars.

He had almost 100 cars throughout his life, she said.

“We would always tease him, he was trying to match his age [with the number of cars],” Jana Higginbottom said. “He was short two or three cars to 95.”

His last one: a BMW 7 series.

Higginbottom is survived by his wife, son, daughters Fair Higginbottom and Rowan Maclaren, stepchildren Guilherme, Geana and Bruna Sieburger, and 23 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Palmetto Bay at 2 p.m. Friday. Donations can be made to Columbia University Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH