Beti Ward moved to Hilo to retire but quickly saw a need more than 20 years ago to deliver goods to the local population.
The founder of Pacific Air Cargo, who was born in Arkansas, started the shipping service to fill a need in the Pacific islands that she grew to love.
“A lot of people start companies for different reasons. Beti’s main focus really, passionately, was to service the community of Hawaii and Samoa,” said Tanja Janfruechte, president and CEO of Pacific Air Cargo. “That’s sort of where her heart lies, in Hawaii and the Pacific.”
The life of the longtime businesswoman, who died in March will be remembered at a private celebration of life next month in Honolulu.
Ward came from a humble background and worked in a variety of careers, including as a hairdresser and real estate agent, before starting in the air cargo industry.
“She effectively went to the Big Island to retire and perhaps dabble in a little bit of real estate,” said Paul Skellon, a spokesman for Pacific Air Cargo. “She realized, living on the Hilo side of the island, just how difficult it was to get everything people were looking for in a timely way — all the goods that obviously have to be shipped to the islands. So she saw an opening. That’s the hallmark of an entrepreneur: They see opportunities where a gap in the market exists or a level of service is not being provided.”
Throughout her career Ward kept customers at the forefront, he said.
“She always thought that the most important thing was to go above and beyond,” Skellon said. “Her success is because she cared about her customer and would go the extra mile. It didn’t matter if it was a small box weighing less than a pound or a full-size helicopter, she gave it the same importance because you never knew what was in that. You didn’t necessarily know how valuable to the customer that 1-pound box was. It could be everything to that customer.”
In 1981 she started Phoenix-based American International Cargo, a $65 million company that grew to 150 employees.
In May 2000 she started Pacific Air Cargo, which provides express service between Los Angeles and Honolulu with Boeing 747 freighter aircraft. The carrier also provides weekly service to Pago Pago, American Samoa and Guam. It hauled more than 100 million pounds of cargo in 2017.
In May 2008 she purchased Aloha Contract Services, a division previously owned by defunct Aloha Airlines, saving nearly 600 jobs that would have been lost. With the purchase her vision was completed, integrating both companies to provide passenger, cargo and ground equipment maintenance services.
“Beti’s love for the air cargo industry was unmatched, spanning 30 years. She embraced her employees, partners and the communities of Hawaii and American Samoa as if they were her own family,” Janfruechte said. “The industry has lost an incredible … icon. She had some kind of drive that loved the community of Hawaii and Samoa. It just has trickled down to all of us who have worked with her for so many years. The values and culture she developed at PAC will remain her legacy for years to come.”
Ward was an avid cyclist and enjoyed going to farmers markets to load up on fresh produce and flowers, Skellon said.
“She was a very loving person and had a great appreciation for the beautiful things in life,” he said. “I don’t mean material. I’m talking about crystal-clear water and the rustle of palm trees — the things we all love about Hawaii.”
Her family asked that her age at death not be reported as per her request.