Faces of YWG: Delta service agent in charge of keeping football tradition alive

You don’t need to be a frequent flyer to receive the all-star treatment from Jeff McWhinney. In fact, you don’t even need to be boarding one of the planes that sport the same logo as the one the long-time Delta Air Lines service agent proudly wears on his uniform.

The smiles, the handshakes and the personal acknowledgements he passes out, they’re all part of McWhinney’s game plan: make everyone who travels through or works at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport feel like a champion.

“Is friendly something that defines me?” asked McWhinney. “I hope so. It starts with us here. There are people that need help and you need to be able to read that. You can only make a difference if you engage.”

McWhinney has been a fixture at YWG for nearly three decades. His career took off in 1992 with Northwest Airlines before it merged with Delta. Even when he’s not on shift, McWhinney can often still be found at the airport but on the other side of the check-in counter, luggage in tow. Inside is a prized possession. A 111-year-old masterpiece made of metal which relies on McWhinney to share its story.

In 2015, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame called McWhinney to offer him the role of keeper of the Grey Cup. It’s a side job he scored thanks to his personality and encyclopedic knowledge of the CFL. As part of the gig, McWhinney escorts the trophy to each event and polishes the prize upon arrival so it always looks its best.

“Everyone gets so excited about the cup,” said McWhinney. “When I bring the cup out, it’s the same feeling every single time. It doesn’t get old for me. I love going into different cities and making someone’s day.”

McWhinney has travelled across the country countless times with the cup. One of his highlights every football season is the CFL Grey Cup game in which he presents the trophy to the championship team. This past November, he was among the first people to congratulate his hometown Winnipeg Blue Bombers on their historic victory. As thrilling as the moment was, to McWhinney, it was just another day on the job.

“If you would have asked me ten years ago, I would have said I was a Bombers fan,” said McWhinney. “I would have had a difficult time holding my emotions. But when you travel through the league and you meet administrations, you establish relationships with them. It’s difficult to choose a favourite team when you like so many people.”

However, of the 3,851 names currently on the Grey Cup, there is one he admires the most. Chiseled into the chalice under the year 1954 is Glenn McWhinney – a member of the championship winning Edmonton Eskimos and father to Jeff.

“If I’ve opened up that case 1,000 times or 20,000 times, no matter where I am it’s the first plate I touch and the last one,” said McWhinney. “Just to let him know I’m here and he’s with me.”

A lasting connection created by a cup. A reminder of memories created and the important things in life.

“Anything we do, you’ve got to be respectful,” said McWhinney. “You have to make people proud. “My dad would want it that way and it would be a shame to let him down. He made a difference.”

A legacy his son Jeff keeps strong every day.

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Comments

Gabe Ayotte said:

Awesome story! I have great memories of Jeff friendly personality when I travelled a lot for work. He was always kind and helpful when my boss, Bob May and I came thru his gate.

Shirley Dudeck said:

Wonderful article on an outstanding man. He was a student of mine many years ago and was as wonderful then as he is now.

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