In Memory of Johnny Gantt

Johnny Bob GanttIn the end, we are our stories. We all hope ours in a good one. Johnny Gantt’s is a very good one.

Johnny’s roadmap for his life: Spend as many hours as possible with your shirt off while piloting big boats around Lake Travis, through the Florida Keys, and among the San Juan Islands. Soar through the clouds in beautiful airplanes, unhindered by pesky traffic regulations or opinionated backseat drivers. Build it and they will come … create a backyard poolside oasis to gather your friends and loved ones close. Frequent Fixed Base Operations all over the world, but miss a trip to the Egyptian pyramids because a sales deal at the Cairo airport was not yet complete. See the world from 30,000 feet, sitting in the cockpit of a King Air, a Cessna, a Diamond Mitsubishi; a Lear jet, Piper Cub, Mooney or Bellanca.  

Eighty-three years ago Johnny Bob Gantt came into this world, took its measure, and got busy. Born at home to James Edward and Mildred Gantt in Sweetwater, TX, Johnny started building his own unique path early. At the age of nine he started tinkering with an old Army surplus jeep until he got it running. When he was 10 years old, his family had a kitchen fire, and his older sister Mary was told to run to the neighbor’s house for help. Half-way into her mile-long run, Johnny passed her in his Jeep, hands above his head on the steering wheel, barely seeing over the dashboard, racing to get help.

In high school, a pilot came one day to talk to the students about careers in the flight industry. Johnny and his friend Bobby decided to go see what this was about and went to the local airport in Plainview, Tx. While looking at the airplanes, the owner of the FBO, James Miller, offered to give these boys a ride for free. Johnny was hooked. Another visit to the airport a few weeks later led him to purchase a J3 cub aircraft on an installment plan, which came with five free flying lessons from Mr. Miller, enough to solo. Still being in high school, he determined it was better to ask forgiveness than permission from his mother to make that airplane purchase, using money he earned working nights at the cotton gin. After his lessons, because he couldn’t afford the $5 parking fee at the airport, he decided to take the plane home and land it in the field behind their house. On his way to school that morning, he told his mother he had purchased an airplane and would be flying it home that afternoon, then he quickly scrambled away in his old Jeep while she was still speechless. When he approached the field that afternoon, he witnessed from the cockpit something strange scurrying around in the dirt below him. It was his mother running around waving a dishtowel over her head, making sure he could not land that airplane. She did eventually relent and let him bring it home, and that was the start of his life’s passion.

After high school, at age 19, he became a civilian flight instructor at the Gary Air Base in San Marcos, TX, giving basic and instrument training to officers. At age 23 he partnered with James Miller, his flight instructor, to co-own Miller Flying Service at the same Plainview airport that started it all. Johnny procured the Mooney distributorship, and over the next 10 years grew the company to over 50 employees, adding a paint, interior and maintenance shop along the way.

In quick succession, Johnny met his wife-to-be, Eura Mae Reid, in 1961, and married her in 1962. His daughter, Melanie Gantt (Rivera), was born in 1964, followed by son Johnny Bob, Jr. (Jay) in 1968.

In 1972, he sold his interest in Miller Flying Service back to James Miller and moved his young family to Austin, TX, then a few years later made the permanent move to Georgetown. Along the way, Johnny made the bold decision to develop an industry that really didn’t exist at that point – selling business aircraft in a resale market. He initially specialized in twin-engine Cessna aircraft, then quickly added turbine planes to his sales fleet. He sold his first King Air 200 in 1975 and that model would prove to be a mainstay of his company, Gantt Aviation. In 1977 he built the first of two 20,000 square foot hangers at the Georgetown Airport at the request of the City of Georgetown, in an attempt to have the airport become a profitable industry for the city. With the inception of Gantt Aviation, Johnny began growing his company, and indeed, the industry, into national and international markets.

He never gave up his passion for flying. Johnny logged more than 25,000 flight hours, obtaining type ratings in Lear, Citation, Hawker, Diamond, Beech Jet, King Air and many others. Not to be bound by traditional flying, he also added several regional Champion titles from the US Acrobatic Club competitions to his accomplishments.

Without the benefit of the internet, Johnny and his business partner, Larry Wood, established a research and sales team to find airplanes for sale from around the world. Some called him a shrewd negotiator. Whether that was true on any individual deal, or not, he developed a reputation of a trusted dealer of quality airplanes. Being a true salesman, he never owned a plane that wasn’t “For Sale”, and like his purchasing market, the customers who bought those planes also came from around the globe.

In 1989, Johnny co-founded the National Aircraft Resale Association (NARA), which was recently re-branded to the International Aircraft Dealers Association (IADA). NARA (now IADA) is the largest and most influential organization of aircraft brokers and dealers in the world. The impetus of NARA was to establish a code of ethics among airplane resale dealers. Gantt Aviation is known worldwide as an honest and upstanding dealer in the airplane resale market, a distinction Johnny was very proud of.

In addition to airplanes, Johnny was passionate about boats, bicycles and family. He enjoyed few things more than piloting his Bluewater Yacht around Lake Travis or having it ferried across land so he could cruise the Florida Keys with his family. Bicycling became a passion later in life, exemplified by his decision to ask a group of friends to one year take a birthday ride with him to equal his age in the miles they travelled. That year he was 68. For the next eight years he expanded the riders who joined him on the road, while increasing the mileage by a mile per year. The last rides included over 50 riders and the party spanned a full weekend. Johnny always knew how to have a good time and to bring all of his friends along for the ride.

Johnny Gantt (May 2, 1936 – May 14, 2019) was preceded in death by his mother, Mildred Ford Gantt, his father James Edward Gantt, his sister Mary Gantt Taylor, and his brother, George Gantt. He is survived by his wife of nearly 57 years, Eura Mae (Reid), his daughter Melanie Gantt Rivera and her husband Julian Rivera, his son Johnny (Jay) Gantt, Jr., and his wife, Amy Gantt, grandchildren Johnny Bob Gantt, III, Leslie Lauren Gantt, Caroline Elizabeth Gantt, Liliana Rose Rivera, Lola Grace Rivera, his sister Deena Gantt, and numerous nieces and nephews. In lieu of a funeral service, the family is planning a Celebration of Life in a place he built to do just that: celebrate life.

It should be noted that when someone lives a life as full as Johnny Gantt’s, perhaps some stories have been slightly inflated. Modestly overblown. Mildly accentuated. Forgive us our ability to willfully ignore corrections to minor details. We know he walked two miles to school uphill both ways, until he started flying there instead. What’s not to believe? When you have such a storied life as Johnny’s, own it, revel in it, raise a glass of wine and praise it. That is what Johnny would do.