Alan S. Boyd, the first US secretary of transportation, who was named by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 to integrate the nation’s sprawling networks of planes, trains, ships and highways into a new superagency, died Sunday in Seattle. He was 98.
He died at Aegis at Ravenna, a retirement home, his son Mark Boyd said.
Despite resistance from bureaucrats and maritime unions, and having to work with underfunded mass transit systems, Boyd won relatively high marks for a two-year effort to merge dozens of transportation-related federal agencies into a Cabinet-level department with 95,000 employees and a more than $5 billion budget. The main holdout was the Maritime Administration, which was not brought into the fold until 1981.
A half-century after Boyd laid the foundations, the Department of Transportation’s $76.5 billion budget and 54,700 employees regulate aviation, railroads, mass transit, shipping, highways, pipelines, the St. Lawrence Seaway and other transport entities. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard were transferred in 2003 to a new Department of Homeland Security.
It was perhaps inevitable that Boyd would find a life in transportation. A great-grandfather invented America’s first horse-drawn streetcar on rails, his father was a highway engineer, and his stepfather was a lawyer for a railroad company. At 17, Alan visited the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City and was dazzled by a General Motors exhibit: a futuristic diorama of superhighways crisscrossing the country.
In Washington for nearly a decade, Boyd was a member of the Civil Aeronautics Board under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and its chairman under President John F. Kennedy. In the Johnson administration, he was the undersecretary of commerce for transportation, and then the secretary of transportation from Jan. 16, 1967, to the start of the Nixon administration on Jan. 20, 1969.
After his time at the transportation department, he took on a number of private and public roles. He was president of the Illinois Central Railroad; President Jimmy Carter’s chief negotiator for a 1977 air-travel pact with Britain, called Bermuda II, governing fares, air routes and other trans-Atlantic arrangements; president of Amtrak; and finally president of the North American arm of Airbus Industrie, the French jetliner manufacturer.
While Boyd’s succession of titles and associations with presidents made an impressive record, his success was hardly a smooth upward trajectory; rather, it was a series of disjointed, sometimes chance events, as he recalled in an autobiography, “A Great Honor: My Life Shaping 20th Century Transportation” (2016). (His eyesight failing at 93, Boyd dictated the book into a recorder, and completed it with the assistance of his son.)
Boyd flunked out of college, but eventually returned and went on to become a lawyer and to receive four honorary doctorates. He was hit by lightning after enlisting in the military and was saved by CPR, but hid the incident from medics to qualify for the Army Air Forces. He became a World War II C-47 pilot, ferrying paratroops into Normandy on D-Day and supplies to besieged Americans at the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he was rejected for an entry-level job with the Civil Aeronautics Board, but a decade later became the board’s chairman.
It was happenstance that brought Boyd to the attention of Johnson, in 1961, when Johnson was vice president, leading to a lasting bond and Boyd’s rise to prominence in Washington. Johnson’s private plane had crashed en route to pick him up at his Texas ranch, and both pilots had been killed. It was Boyd’s turn in a rotation at the Civil Aeronautics Board, which regulated the airline industry, to lead the accident investigation. Johnson did not forget him or his thorough work.
As president of Amtrak, the government-supported National Railroad Passenger Corp., from 1978 to 1982, Boyd fought cutbacks in funding and service. But subsidies dwindled. When he left, he said his chief regret was failing to establish permanent funding for Amtrak. With Airbus, from 1982 to 1992, his biggest sale was to Braniff Airlines in 1989, a $3.5 billion deal for 100 planes.
Alan Stephenson Boyd was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 20, 1922, to Clarence and Elizabeth (Stephenson) Boyd.
In 1943, he married Flavil Townsend, a high school teacher. They had one son, Mark. Boyd’s wife died in 2007. Besides his son, he is survived by two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.