Paul Smith, who has served as executive director of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta for 26 years, will retire at the end of the month and Sam Parks, the fiesta’ current operations manager, will step into Smith’s vacated position.
The change in leadership, along with other top positions, was announced in a Wednesday news release from fiesta management.
“It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for more than half of the Balloon Fiestas,” Smith said. “I just hope we’re both a little bit better for our time together.”
The operations manager position has been eliminated and those responsibilities will be absorbed by the new staffing structure, fiesta officials said.
Before joining Balloon Fiesta full time in May 2018, Parks served as balloonmeister from 2013 to 2018, the longest-serving person in that position. As balloonmeister he was in charge of all ballooning activities and events on the field, including the decision if it was safe to launch. . Prior to that he owned and operated his own business in North Carolina for 28 years. Parks is also an accomplished gas balloon pilot.
“After celebrating AIBF’s golden anniversary this past October, I look forward to launching the next 50 years of the world’s premier balloon event this year,” Parks said.
The AIBF board of directors also announced that Judith Nakamura, a board member since 2011, will be the 2023 board president, replacing Al Tetreault, who will remain as a board member. Nakamura is a well-known and long-time balloon pilot. She is also a former chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, chief judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court and a 2nd Judicial District Court judge.
“I look forward to continuing the work of the board and staff in ensuring Balloon Fiesta remains one of New Mexico’s economically and culturally defining events,” Nakamura said.
In other fiesta staff changes, Jennifer Garcia will be the new event director, responsible for all flight operations, as well as working with officials, pilots, special events and coordinating flights with the city, Federal Aviation Administration, Kirtland Air Force Base and the Albuquerque International Sunport.
Taylor Caldwell has been named the new pilot coordinator, responsible for coordinating flight operations and registering and processing information for all pilots and volunteer crew.