AIRLINES: The Veteran Pilot

At an elegant Manhattan dinner party some years ago one of the guests tried to start a conversation with the man to her left by asking how many languages he spoke. The balding, big-chested diner looked up from his plate and replied: "One—poorly." For Cyrus Rowlett (known universally as "C.R.") Smith, one has always been enough.

Born to a hardscrabble family in Minerva, Texas, Smith built American Airlines from a struggling group of merged regional carriers in the mid-'30s to one of the nation's fastest-growing and most profitable lines in the '60s. In 1968 he finally jetted off to Washington...

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