Donald W. Nyrop

Donald W. Nyrop

1912 – 2010

Donald William Nyrop, age 98, of Edina, MN died Tuesday, November 16, 2010, at his home.

His lifelong career in the airline industry, beginning in Washington D.C. as a federal regulator of the nascent commercial airline industry and concluding with a quarter-century at the helm of Northwest Airlines, define his legacy.

Born in Elgin, Nebraska, on April 1, 1912, he graduated from Doane College in Crete, Nebraska in 1934 and subsequently graduated from George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C. while working as an auditor for the U.S. General Accounting Office. Admitted to the bar in 1938, he joined the newly formed Civil Aeronautics Authority (the precursor to the Federal Aviation Authority), where he honed his focus on route proceedings and airline safety. During World War II, he served as executive operations officer in the U.S. Army’s Air Transport Command, returning to civilian life in 1946 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Prior to joining Northwest Airlines in 1954, he held the highest civilian aviation posts in the U.S. government, as Civil Aeronautics administrator and Civil Aeronautics Board chairman. Under his leadership, Northwest Airlines transformed from a failing mail carrier to a financially successful international airline, profitable in every year of his tenure. Safety considerations drove decision making and programs at Northwest, including advanced piloting techniques and training, state-of-the-art meteorological research, and equipment standardization. Northwest had one of the best safety records in the industry.

In the late 1960’s and the 1970’s, Northwest bought or sold an airplane , on average, every 26 days, maintaining a modern fleet, while enhancing profits for the company and its shareholders. When he retired in 1978, Northwest Airlines was debt free. He served on many Boards of Directors, including First Bank System, Inc.; Northwestern Bell Telephone Company; Gould, Inc.; The Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Co.; Honeywell, Inc.; Stetson Hat Company; and as a Trustee of Doane College, Crete, NE. In his lifetime, he was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame, and received the Tony Jannus Award for Outstanding Achievement in Commercial Aviation. He was a long time member of the Minikahda Club, the Minneapolis Club and the former Minnesota Club.

Noted for his rich story-telling, he was fortunate to share his retirement with many friends, neighbors and Northwest employees, attending regular reunions, dinners and events. He had an avid interest in history and politics, traveled throughout the western US, and enjoyed fishing in Alaska. Married to Grace Cary Nyrop for over 50 years, together they were dedicated to their family and unfailingly supportive of all their children and grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Grace Cary Nyrop, and his son, William Donald Nyrop. He is survived by his daughter, Nancy Nyrop Scherer, her husband, Richard Scherer and their children, Matthew and Cary; daughters of William Nyrop and daughter-in-law, Mandy Love, Jessica Nyrop Rolin and Hannah Nyrop; daughter, Kathryn Nyrop and her husband, Stephen Koch and their children Nicholas and Charles; daughter, Karen Nyrop, her husband, Larry Israelson and their children, Paige and Clay; and several nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held on January 8, 2011 at 2 p.m. at Colonial Church of Edina, 6200 Colonial Way, Edina, MN.

Memorials preferred to Allina Hospice, 1055 Westgate Drive, Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55114 or the Edina Foundation – Bill Nyrop Scholarship Fund, 5280 Grandview Square, Edina, MN 55436.