Phil Metz (’81, DB) was a sophomore in high school in Pittsburgh when he saw a small black and white ad for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Popular Science magazine.
“I took that ad to my dad and said this is where I want to go to school,” recalls Metz, who started at Embry-Riddle in fall 1976.
He didn’t know it then, but Metz would play a critical role in the formative years of Embry-Riddle’s Alumni Association and become an avid supporter of the university’s Heritage Project, a fund used to preserve and showcase Embry-Riddle’s storied history.
“The history of aviation and the history of Embry-Riddle are forever tied together,” says Metz, who is now practice leader for Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, a major insurance provider for the aviation industry. “I could have supported scholarships or campus buildings, but I never wanted to put my name on anything. Preserving history may be less popular, but it’s important.”
When Metz arrived on campus, the administration building was in an old military barracks building, the parking lot was a former runway and female students were few and far between.
“There were 30 women and every guy on campus knew them by name,” says Metz. Spring break, which drew students from across the country to the local beaches, was a welcome distraction; but it also frequently coincided with Embry-Riddle’s finals week.
“Spring break was a very popular time for the guys,” he recalls. “But so many guys were on the beach every day instead of studying—they didn’t come back next fall.”
Metz spent two years in the flight program, but eventually decided to go into the business side of aviation. He graduated in 1981 with degrees in aeronautical studies and aviation maintenance technology. He took a job at Embry-Riddle as an admissions counselor after graduation, and in 1982, he was hired to lead Embry-Riddle’s Alumni Association, becoming only the second full-time paid director for that office.
“The fact that the university has a big role in the history of aviation and aerospace is exciting, and I think it’s important for new students to know that this is where we came from.”
Five student assistants helped him with everything from annual fundraising to publishing the first alumni directory, and organizing the first campus-sponsored homecoming in 1986. His biggest challenge was a lack of resources, but he says he learned a variety of skills, from graphic design to event planning, that he still uses today.
“It was all trial and error. I had to learn it on the fly,” Metz says. “We got a lot done. I am proud of my time there.”
One of his favorite Embry-Riddle memories was spending time with John Paul Riddle, one of the university’s founding fathers. Metz met the renowned aviation entrepreneur in the early 1980s, during one of Riddle’s many campus visits as a guest of then-President Jack Hunt.
“He was just a fascinating, fabulous man that I really looked up to and am honored to have met,” Metz says. “He’d walk into the University Center and all of the conversation changed. It was like a god walked in.”
Another Embry-Riddle icon Metz encountered was then Dean of Student Affairs Bob Rockett. Now dean emeritus, Rockett is a fan of Embry-Riddle history and established and led the Heritage Project in the 1990s. Rockett’s passion for Embry-Riddle history soon overflowed to Metz, who began contributing regularly to the Heritage Project and hasn’t stopped since. “I wanted to recognize [Bob’s] contributions to that project and Embry-Riddle. Bob is a walking Embry-Riddle history book,” Metz says.
With an integral role in the early Alumni Association, Metz is part of that history, Rockett says. “He’s given his time and money to Embry-Riddle. He’s got Embry-Riddle in his blood,” Rockett adds. “He left this place better than when he found it.”
Lighter Than Air
Aviation is also part of Metz’s personal history—and it consumes his free time. He and his wife of nearly 30 years, Anne, took up hot air ballooning as a hobby about 20 years ago. Metz says he enjoys the peace and quiet of ballooning, but also the thrill of low altitude flying. “I like flying four feet off the ground with the bottom of the basket scraping the scrub brush, scaring all the jackrabbits out,” he says with a laugh, speaking about flying in the northern New Mexico desert.
Metz left Embry-Riddle in 1986, to pursue an aviation career. He moved to Atlanta, working in passenger services at Midwest Express Airlines. In 1988, he accepted a job in aviation insurance at USAIG. Nine years ago, he was offered a job at the German-based company Allianz to be part of a team to expand their aviation insurance program to the United States.
“It’s been a challenging, rewarding, and enjoyable wild ride,” he says.
And, aviation has been a common theme throughout. “I love aviation—it’s what I do every day,” Metz says. “The fact that the university I went to has a big role in the history of aviation and aerospace is exciting, and I think it’s important for new students to know that this is where we came from.”