The relationship between pilots and air traffic controllers is nothing like that between drivers and traffic cops. It's closer to the relationship between runners and the people who cheer us on and hand us food and cups of water. I don't know how they select and train people for the job, but the typical air traffic controller's desire to do everything they can to expedite traffic seems to be tempered only by their desire to keep us safe. I know that occasional arbitrary-seeming restrictions on my access to airspace are required for separation. I can't think that I've ever felt a controller was holding me up because she was being lazy. They do make mistakes, and every once in a while we joke that one is trying to kill us, but we forgive them, because they always forgive our mistakes and protect us from their consequences. I can't think that I've ever felt rage at an air traffic controller. I've certainly never wished one dead.
So it's with admiration and sorrow that I present the life story of the late Eleanor Joyce Toliver-Williams, an FAA air traffic controller I found out about recently through Greg Gross's travel blog. She retired as chief of the Cleveland ARTCC, which is pretty impressive for anyone seeing as it's the busiest of only twenty-two such 'Centers' in the US. But it's remarkable because she started as an FAA janitor. In Alaska(*). She went from janitor to stenographer to certified controller in three years, which is about half the time than it took me to go from flight instructor to charter captain. Then it took five more years for her to be given an actual assignment as a controller. I'm not sure if that was because she was the first black woman to qualify and America didn't know if it was ready for her, or if she had some time off before she got a placement she wanted. She did raise seven children along the way.
It's worth reading her full obituary here.* That's only one step up from unemployed in Greenland, isn't it.