Not lei-ing down on the job
All-night scramble brings special flowers just in time for historic tribute
In Selma, Alabama this week, members of Congress, President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush commemorated a groundbreaking event from 50 years ago—and FedEx played a part.
The march at the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge paid tribute to a similar march in 1965 in which civil rights leaders walked together on a day that became known as Bloody Sunday—a turning point in the civil rights movement.
On that day, Dr. Martin Luther King and other marchers wore bright flowered Hawaiian leis around their necks—gifts from a Hawaiian clergyman, Rev. Abraham Akaka, sent to the marchers to affirm Asian-American support for the civil rights cause.
As the anniversary approached this year, Hawaii’s Sen. Mazie Hirono and Rep. Mark Takai had 150 similar leis handmade in Hawaii, and they shipped them to Selma via FedEx. That’s where Mother Nature interfered.
Find those boxes!
Several days of ice, snow and storms across the country threw a monkey wrench into schedule planning in some areas, and on Friday afternoon it became clear that the leis weren’t going to reach Alabama in time. Express Operations sounded the alarm, and Executive Customer Service, Express management, Government Affairs, Global Operations Control, AGFS and Air Operations conferred on a contingency plan throughout the afternoon and night. One box of leis was in Los Angeles so it was hurried onto a plane headed to Memphis. The other box was inside an 18-wheeler traveling across Texas, so Express employees met it at the Lubbock facility where they opened up the big truck and went digging through its load until they found the box so they could rush it onto a 757 heading east. First Officer Eric Shelton was one of the two FedEx pilots watching it unfold.
“We didn’t know at first why we were being sent to Lubbock,” he said, “but when we landed, my duty manager told us that we were going to be picking up ‘the golden package’.” Landing in Lubbock, he and Captain Chris Long watched the ramp crew in action, led by their manager, Pedro Bautista. “They had to stay late, and they went above and beyond to quickly and efficiently unload that truck and find that one package. It was amazing.”
Captain Long said, “I happened to walk up as they were having their post-shift briefing. Standing at the door so as not to interrupt, I listened to the manager giving a short synopsis of why he needed some folks to stay and work extra—purely volunteer. He hadn’t finished speaking before several hands went up. It was impressive.”
Once the two packages arrived in Memphis, Express Senior Manager Wes Crumpton retrieved them and loaded them aboard a feeder flight to Montgomery, AL.
“Can you make 150 Hawaiian leis? … Hello?”
Meanwhile in Montgomery, Lance Mangum of Government Affairs—scheduled to represent FedEx at the event—was scrambling to figure out an alternative, trying to find an Alabama florist who could make 150 Hawaiian leis in the middle of a Friday night. It quickly became clear that the flowers couldn’t be replaced. Gary Ramsey, Express Station Manager in Montgomery, grabbed his car keys and headed for the station.
“I’d already been up since 4 am that day, but when I got the call late on Friday night I knew this was important. I spent most of the night on the phone with the Memphis Hub,” said Gary. The aircraft coming from Memphis was just rolling to a stop at the Montgomery Airport as Gary pulled up.
“I’ve been with FedEx for 31 years, 29 as a courier, but this event made me nervous. I started thinking about how many people, how many man-hours, how far up the chain this goes, and I’m the last leg! What if something happens to my truck? But I knew we’d make it happen.”
Just in time
Gary arrived at the hotel in Montgomery shortly before sunrise, less than an hour before the Congressional group was scheduled to leave for the historic event at the bridge where the President and former President would meet them. Lance hurried to take the boxes from Gary and place them on the bus.
“Then I heard, ‘Have you got a second? Someone wants to meet you,’” Gary recalled. It was Congressman Takai, who wanted to personally express his thanks to the FedEx team.
“He told me the contents of those boxes were designed especially for that event, to evoke those historic images from 1965, and that Hawaii wanted to be part of bringing that back,” said Gary. “It would not have had the same significance if the shipments hadn’t made it.”
“Way above the call of duty”
Congressman Takai asked to peek inside the boxes to make sure the fragile flowers were OK. They were in perfect condition—as delicate and damp as if they had just been picked. Colorful leis were distributed to the Congressional group—many put them on while still on the bus—and a special all-white lei, created with multiple layers of flowers, was handed to Georgia Congressman John Lewis—a survivor of the original event who was now ready to lead the commemorative re-enactment.
In addition to the boxes with the leis, there were two other boxes vital to the event—containing commemorative books and other items—which had also run into weather issues along the way. Express Operations Managers Chad Cooper and Stephen Borklund (who came in from his vacation) drove them from Birmingham to Montgomery, pulling up only five minutes before the buses rolled out for the event in Selma—where two Presidents were waiting and the world was watching.
“This went from a hopeless situation to one that was hope-inspiring,” said Gina Adams of FedEx Government Affairs, who helped coordinate. “I’m so proud.”
“I felt honored to have witnessed such a profound display of professionalism, enthusiasm and teamwork—very late at night after a full shift,” said Captain Long. “What I saw was way above the call of duty. It was admirable.”
First Officer Shelton watched the event on TV with his family. “I was proud to know that I was a part of making it successful.”