ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Of the handful of people who fit my personal definition of “public servant,” Stu Purviance stands out.
By choice, he’s seldom found in the spotlight, preferring to work tirelessly in the wings to improve our city, our state and our nation.
Earlier this month, Stu retired from his 19-year post as executive director of the Kirtland Partnership Committee, the nonprofit organization of civic leaders that works to preserve and expand Kirtland Air Force Base and, by association, keeps Albuquerque’s economic engine chugging along. By Air Force estimates, Kirtland’s annual economic impact is more than $7.6 billion.
Though he’s on a first-name basis with some of the military’s top brass and has rubbed elbows with movie stars and politicians, Stu Purviance is more likely to be found with friends at a local pub, regaling them with his well-spun stories.
But even before joining the KPC, Stu had made his mark on the city, serving as director of bureau services for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau from 1990 to 1996.
“I got to really know Albuquerque during those six years,” he said earlier this month at the KPC offices as he prepared to box up years of memories and accomplishments with the nonprofit.
The KPC was a second career for Stu, who had a diverse and distinguished 29½-year career with the Air Force before retiring in 1989. His final duty assignment was, fortuitously for us, Kirtland Air Force Base.
The wild blue yonder
Charles Stuart Purviance was born in SÃ£o Palo, Brazil, where his father worked for Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. The family lived there and in Rio de Janeiro until Stu was 9, then moved to New York City. After attending Grace Church School in Greenwich Village – where he sang in the choir – he moved with his family to Akron, Ohio, when his father went to work for General Tire.
While attending Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, Stu enrolled in the AFROTC program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1960. His plan was to parlay his five-year hitch in the Air Force into a job flying for a commercial airline, but he soon found himself flying HH-43 Huskie helicopters in Vietnam.
“Most of what I did was recovering bodies from crashes, but we had some successes,” he said. “I once got a couple of Vietnamese soldiers out of a minefield without them blowing themselves up.” But he also rescued downed American pilots, and once had to hover over a stranded medic until the chopper’s hoist cooled down enough to lift him through the jungle canopy.
“I grew up in Vietnam,” he said pensively before moving to a new topic.
After returning from two tours in Vietnam in 1967, he became protocol officer for Gen. Jack Catton, then head of Military Airlift Command.
“I handled all of Gen. Catton’s visitors, ceremonies, dinners and all official functions,” Stu said.
Two years later, he was assigned to flight school to fly the C-141 Starlifter, a massive cargo plane.
“When I arrived at the base gate, the guard handed me a note from the wing commander,” directing him to call immediately.
“I called him, and he said, ‘Did you know you’ve been nominated to be the protocol officer for the secretary of defense? We’ve got to fly you to Washington on Monday.'”
For the next several years, Purviance was protocol officer to five consecutive secretaries of defense: Melvin Laird; Elliott Richardson; James Schlesinger; Donald Rumsfeld and Harold Brown. Despite the lofty post, Stu’s recollections of his time at the Pentagon are decidedly more low-key.
“I got a reputation at the Pentagon for fixing parking tickets,” he said. “I was so busy, the way I ‘fixed’ them was I’d just pay the damned things. So people started saying ‘Hey, Stuart can fix parking tickets,’ ” he said with a laugh.
His duties varied widely, from arranging highly sensitive meetings to squiring VIPs to professional football games.
He later was director of public affairs for U.S. Air Forces-Europe, headquartered at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
He came to Kirtland in 1983 as inspector general, “But what I really did was work for the (base) commander. I was a jack-of-all-trades for the commander.”
“Before I headed to Kirtland, I was in Washington for about a month. (Retired four-star general and former Secretary of State) Colin Powell threw a dinner party for me, which was really nice.” He’s even mentioned in one of Powell’s books.
Taking care of Kirtland
Asked to whittle down his list of accomplishments at the KPC to his top three, Stu listed these: Securing new drop zones for the 58th Special Operations Wing’s training; engaging with base leadership and the community on remediation of a decades-old jet fuel leak; and assisting in the formation of the Strategic Deterrent Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to educating decision-makers on the importance of the nation’s nuclear deterrent. More than 250 defense employees, contractors, military and academics attended the coalition’s 2016 symposium here last month.
In May, Purviance received the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Steve Schiff Kirtland Air Force Base Advocacy award at the chamber’s annual Armed Forces Banquet.
“Stuart’s incredible focus, commitment and just plain hard work helped to build KPC into a diverse and effective advocate for Kirtland, which is such an important part of our community and the state as a whole,” said Sherman McCorkle, a founding member of KPC. “His extensive military experience has been invaluable in establishing and maintaining strong relationships with Air Force leadership. Stuart has been my close friend and trusted colleague for many years, and I cannot thank him enough for all he has done.”
“Retirement” isn’t quite the right word for Stu’s departure from the KPC.
“I’m going to take some time off and then maybe do something part time,” he said. “Sitting around doing nothing isn’t going to hack it, so I’ll be doing something.”
The former paperboy for the Akron Beacon Journal said he’ll continue his favorite pastime – reading – and taking care of his two beloved cats, Nit Noy and Bamboo.
“I guess the one thing I absolutely love to do is read. Newspapers. Magazines. Books. Internet articles. Fliers. Labels – anything,” he said.
“I read the Journal every morning starting about 5 a.m. I read every article, every page. I look at the advertisements, and I read many of the obituaries. And I often pick up a story and make it my own, retelling it to others ad nauseam. I am sure I have bored many of my friends with my stories about stories.”
I, for one, can’t wait to hear more of them.