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Jim Blue, 1929-2007: Boeing executive valued loyalty

He rose from menial work as high school student to many key posts

Last updated May 24, 2007 11:40 p.m. PT

By DAN RICHMAN
P-I REPORTER

Jim Blue, a retired Boeing Co. vice president said by colleagues to have a warm heart for those who told him the truth and a salty tongue for those who didn't, died Wednesday at his home after a prolonged illness. He was 78.

"He was a great guy to work for, but if you didn't play it straight with him, he was a real s.o.b.," said Richard Schwartz, 75, who worked under Blue in several capacities until his retirement from Boeing in 1990. "One of the biggest things he looked for was loyalty from people. If you didn't tell him the truth, he didn't figure you were very loyal."

Born April 27, 1929, in Kansas, Blue began working for Boeing in Wichita during World War II while still in high school, said lifelong colleague and friend Bob Bogash, 63, of Hansville, on the Kitsap Peninsula. His first job was unloading boxcars with a handcart.

After a stint in the Marine Corps and graduation from Wichita State University, Blue moved with his family to the Seattle area in about 1960. He got to know another Midwesterner, T.A. Wilson, while they were both working on the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program.

Wilson, who later became Boeing's chairman and chief executive, had a big influence on Blue's career, Bogash said.

"He was his mentor," said Bogash, who worked under Blue in several capacities. "The people who did a good job for him, as Wilson moved up, he brought his boys with him."

In about 1967, Blue moved to the Program Management Office in the commercial division to work on the 747 jumbo jet. In 1969, Blue moved on to customer support in the commercial division, where he supported Boeing's airline customers around the world.

In 1982, he moved to sales, where he was charged with selling 58 used jetliners Boeing had accepted in trade for new airplanes.

Two years later, when they were all sold, he became Boeing's first vice president of quality. He was soon charged with supervising not just traditional factory inspections, but also with monitoring the quality of every employee and every discipline in the company, according to Bogash.

In 1987, Blue became vice president of Boeing commercial's purchasing arm, where he was responsible for buying all the parts and software that were used to produce Boeing planes but were not created by Boeing itself. In that job, he oversaw the transition to a digitally defined and produced airplane, the 777.

Blue retired in 1993 and split his time between two homes, one in Lake Stevens, where he died, and one in Bremerton.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Jeanne Ann, and three children -- Pam, Teri and Jim Jr. -- as well as eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

His remains will be placed in a family plot in Greenwood, Kan. No memorial service or funeral is planned.

"He was my best friend," Bogash said. "He was a tremendous guy."

Schwartz said Blue had a kindly, charitable nature, once opening the Museum of Flight an hour early so Schwartz's young grandson could have time in the cockpit -- normally off-limits -- of a MiG that Blue had found in Czechoslovakia.

Another time, Blue yielded to entreaties from an out-of-work man, his wife and their young children at Christmastime and pressured his company into quickly giving the man a job, Schwartz said.

"Blue pulled all sorts of strings, and I never told Blue until 1990 that six weeks afterwards, the guy got fired and his wife divorced him, because he was a total flake," Schwartz said.

Donations in Blue's memory may be sent to North Snohomish Little League, the Noah Animal Adoption Center or Pasado's Safe Haven.


P-I reporter Dan Richman can be reached at 206-448-8032 or danrichman@seattlepi.com.

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