Benjamin Demps Jr., former administrator of the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center and former director of the state's Department of Human Services, died Saturday. He was 79.
Demps died at Peace River Regional Medical Center in Port Charlotte, Fla., near his home after he suffered complications during surgery.
Born Jan. 5, 1934, in Harlem, N.Y., Demps served in the U.S. Air Force from 1952 to 1956, and earned a bachelor's degree in political science from State University of New York in 1972.
He was an air traffic controller and supervisor at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center and served as superintendent of the Federal Aviation Administration Academy in Oklahoma City in 1976.
In 1979, Demps became the first black director of the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. While serving as the center's director, he was praised for his management during the air traffic controller strike in August 1981.
Demps earned a law degree from the Oklahoma City University School of Law and passed the Oklahoma bar in 1982.
From 1985 to 1991, he worked as director of the FAA's Europe, Africa and Middle East office in Brussels, Belgium. During his tenure, he helped develop the policy of placing armed federal marshals on flights, said Ricky Brown, his grandson.
Demps returned to Oklahoma in 1991 to become director of the state's welfare program.
He was the first black person to serve as DHS director, a position he held until January 1994. During that time, Demps dealt with a controversial overstaffing of the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Treatment Center in Tecumseh.
The Oklahoman reported more than 170 employees were taking care of 13 youths in a facility that could house 76 juveniles. At the time, the center's annual budget was $6.3 million, of which $5.1 million went to payroll.
Demps consolidated the agency's resources, leading to the furlough of 88 DHS employees and converting the center from a juvenile psychiatric facility to a center for juvenile offenders.
He received two Presidential Meritorious Executive Service Awards, one from Jimmy Carter in 1980 and one from George H.W. Bush in 1991.
Demps later served as Kansas City, Mo., public schools superintendent from 1999 to 2001.
He moved to Florida in 2002. He enjoyed sailing, dancing, bragging about his grandchildren, listening to music and traveling with his wife, Brown said.