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Jim Greenwood, the man who made "Learjet" a household name, dies at 91

Jim Greenwood, a former public relations director for Bill Lear who helped make the name “Learjet” a household word, died Friday in Green Valley, Ariz. Greenwood was inducted into the Kansas Hall of Aviation in 2004.

“He wrote the book … on how do you promote business aviation, how do you sell business aviation, how do you communicate about business aviation,” said Al Higdon, a lifelong friend who worked with Greenwood at Beech and Learjet. “He did that from the 50s to the 80s.”

Greenwood had friends in all levels of the business jet industry — from CEOs to those who worked on the shop floor, Higdon said.

“He knew the industry inside and out,” Higdon said. “He loved it, and he always did what was best for the industry at the time.”

Greenwood came to Wichita in 1955 to become manager of press relations for Beech Aircraft Corp., and worked closely with Olive Ann Beech and Frank Hedrick.  In 1964, he moved across town to work with Bill Lear at the Lear Jet Corp. There, his writing helped make the Learjet the most popular business jet of the 1960s, according to information from the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame.

In 1970, he left to join the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington as its director of public affairs. He later returned to Gates Learjet. Along the way, Greenwood met a variety of celebrities such as James Coburn, Arthur Godfrey and Johnny Carson. Greenwood developed business jet safety seminars and humanitarian projects using the Learjet. He retired in 1985 as senior vice president of corporate affairs at Gates Learjet.

Greenwood was born in 1920 in Washington, D.C., and began flying at age 16. He joined the Navy a week after Pearl Harbor, serving as a parachute rigger and helping develop emergency parachute equipment.  After the Navy, Greenwood worked for a commercial parachute service in Alexandria, Va. He then began a writing career, working as a journalist for the local newspaper. He also wrote three books, “Parachuting for Sport,” “The Parachute: From Balloons to Skydiving,” and “Stunt Flying in the Movies.”

A memorial service for Greenwood will be held in the spring of 2012, Higdon said. A date has not been set.