PASCO — Tri-Cities Airport Director Jim Morasch worked his way up through the ranks to become well-known and respected in his field, colleagues say.
"Jim was a man of superlatives," Port of Pasco Executive Director Jim Toomey said Friday of Morasch, who died Thursday from injuries he suffered in a car crash.
"When people spoke of Jim, they didn't speak of him as an airport director; they spoke of him as the best airport director," Toomey said.
Morasch, 68, died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he had been flown after his car was hit head-on in a Jan. 25 crash in north Franklin County.
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The driver of the other vehicle, Rafael Santiago Cruz, 36, of Richland, died in the collision after he apparently lost control of his pickup on a patch of ice.
Morasch took the helm of the Tri-Cities Airport in 1980, shepherded it through a major expansion in 1986 and was integral in recent plans to expand the airport further, Toomey said.
Since Morasch first came on board, Toomey said of the airport, "there's more of it, it's better and it's bigger because of the role Jim played."
Morasch's stature in the aviation industry also helped when the airport sought funding, Toomey said.
From Federal Aviation Administration officials to congressional delegates, "they knew if money was being spent at the Tri-Cities by Jim and the staff that it was going to be well-spent," Toomey said.
"He kept the airport up to snuff all the time," recalled longtime Port of Pasco Commissioner Ernie Boston. "If there was anything at the airport he didn't know, I don't think it existed."
"He did a spotless job," said Port of Pasco Commissioner Bill Clark. "He was very bright, very compassionate. ... He just kept giving and giving."
Commissioners had hoped to call on Morasch's knowledge and expertise as the airport considers another expansion.
Port of Pasco commissioners and staff members have been updating the airport's master plan since early 2010 and plan to hold public meetings soon about the next phase of airport development, Toomey said.
For the present, however, the commissioners decided last week to appoint Ron Foraker, assistant airport director, as acting airport director.
They did so expecting Morasch to require months of recovery, Toomey said.
Toomey said it's too early to say what the next steps might be to fill Morasch's shoes.
"I think everybody just wants to get through the next month before we have any serious discussion," he said.
As for today, Toomey continued, "First and foremost, we want to be respectful of what everyone in (Morasch's) family wants to do."
Also Friday, port officials and staff members spent time "sitting around the table and telling great Jim Morasch stories," Toomey said.
People also talked about how to possibly honor those memories.
"I think people would like to do something lasting. They'd like to see his name somewhere, even if it's as simple as a park bench.
"The gentleman, his personal footprint is large," Toomey continued, "if we can mirror that with something physical, we'd like to do that."
Morasch's family declined to comment.
As of Friday evening, no funeral or memorial services for Morasch had been announced.