Michael Gobb's mistakes and frailties should not obscure the considerable good he did as executive director of Blue Grass Airport.
Probably no one in recent memory has lived through more ups and downs in Lexington's public eye than Mr. Gobb, who died last week at 50.
When he was hired to manage the airport in 1998, he knew that he was walking into a bitter fight over a runway construction plan. The dispute tripped all kinds of Lexington hot buttons, from the development vs. farmland conflict to concerns about closed governance of local institutions.
Mr. Gobb's open, affable leadership style and his eagerness to listen to everyone were key to sorting out the controversy in a way that satisfied the warring parties. Mr. Gobb oversaw a renovation and expansion that gave us an airport that's the right size for the region and market. Blue Grass, which had been a source of contention, became a point of pride.
Yet, tragically, the renovation was indirectly implicated in the 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191 that killed 49 people. Because of construction, the taxiway routes had been temporarily changed, which some said confused the Comair pilots in the morning darkness and caused them to take off from the wrong runway which was too short.
In the end, pilot error was the blame. Other jetliners had been taking off safely under the same conditions, and the bantering Comair pilots had violated proper procedures in the cockpit.
Just a few days after the crash, Mr. Gobb said the psychological shock had yet to sink in with airport personnel and first responders. "You're so busy in the first few days and hours that you're not thinking about the emotional impact," he said. "It's when things wind down a little bit and you start to digest what you saw — that's when it hits."
In 2010, Mr. Gobb was spared a prison term after pleading guilty to two felonies arising from rampant spending abuses at the airport first reported by this newspaper. He was put on five years probation and required to undergo random drug and alcohol tests.
The judge who sentenced him said he had battled substance abuse since 2003, a struggle that all too many Kentuckians have waged and lost.
A colleague, Alan Stein, found him unresponsive in his apartment Sept. 12. Mr. Gobb was working for Stein's consulting firm and recovering from a car accident.
"Michael struggled mightily to put his life together, and we thought he was on his way to a full recovery," a news release from SteinGroup said. "We will miss our good friend and valued colleague for his professionalism and his ever-present smile."
Stein told a reporter that Mr. Gobb "really and truly helped our company a lot." We don't doubt that one bit.