His position is not the fulfillment of a childhood dream, although his interest in aviation did begin when his father took him to what was then Woodrum Field to watch airplanes land and take-off.
His first airplane flight was out of the Roanoke airport as he left for the Coast Guard, stationed in Kodiak, Alaska.
Prior to returning to the Roanoke Valley, Bradshaw spent over 25 years in airport management, including similar positions at the Eastern Iowa Airport and the Louisville Regional Airport Authority.
He said he kept his eye on the Roanoke airport along the way, thinking that it was nearing time for Jacqueline Shuck, who had been director here since 1989, to retire, and when she did, he “jumped on the opportunity.”
Bradshaw did not return to Roanoke for a bigger job— the airport in Cedar Rapids was larger— but to come back home.
“It was a blessing to come home. I was very fortunate,” he said. “The Good Lord gave me a great opportunity. It’s very rare to be able to manage the airport where you are from. People rarely leave jobs like mine; there are few vacancies. I am just the fifth airport director here in Roanoke.”
Bradshaw, who lives south of Fincastle, grew up in Vinton, attended Roland E. Cook Elementary School and went on to graduate from William Byrd High School in 1976. He was in eighth grade when the new William Byrd High School opened.
His father served for a time as a Vinton police officer in the ‘60s although he did not make law enforcement his career.
Bradshaw’s memories of growing up in Vinton include time spent at the Municipal Pool, attending high school football games, “collecting pop bottles” which he would trade in at Mick of Mack, shopping at Sam’s Variety Store for a bag of candy, watching the hockey team at the Lancerlot, and attending the annual Dogwood Festival and Parade. It was a time when a 19-cent Kenney Burger was “living it up.”
He recalls a vigorous downtown Vinton and a community with “small town values.”
He describes his childhood in Vinton as a good experience, “a safe place to grow up where people really did look out for one another. Parents talked to one another with that concept of it takes a village to raise a child.” He credits that atmosphere with forming his personality and getting him to where he is today.
Bradshaw says that during high school, with a resonant voice, he was interested in radio broadcasting and theater, but spent most of his spare time working because “money was freedom.” He delivered newspapers and shoveled snow. He worked at the Rustler Steak House nights and weekends.
He remembers Bob Patterson as his principal at William Byrd and a math teacher who he describes as the key to his earning his college degree because even though he didn’t like math, she taught him to concentrate and relate math to everyday life.
After high school, he worked at Vinton Weaving for three years and then joined the Coast Guard in 1980. He says that this was not long after Vietnam and he “became interested in helping save lives.” He was assigned to search and rescue for his six years in the service, working in fisheries patrol and with a helicopter-based rescue crew. He went on to serve in Oregon and in Florida.
Bradshaw says that it’s a small world, because one of the first people he ran into in Alaska was Rick Gardner, now with Roanoke County Schools, who he had attended high school with in Vinton.
The Coast Guard exposed him to aviation. He flew in the back of helicopters, operating the hoist to pluck people out of the water and received the Sikorsky Helicopter Rescue Award during his time in the service.
After the Coast Guard, he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Aviation Business Administration. Initially his goal was to become a pilot, which in those days required a college degree; however, once he completed his degree his career took a different path into airport management. He went on to earn his Master’s degree in Public Administration from Western Kentucky University.
In addition to being director of the Louisville and Cedar Rapids airports, he was the Operations Supervisor in Teterboro, N.J., and airport manager in Owensboro and Bowling Green.
Over the years of his career he developed a reputation for effecting significant growth at the airports where he worked. He also was known for building strong relationships between the airports, communities and local governments
In announcing his selection for the job in Roanoke, the Roanoke Regional Airport Commission stated that his appointment “follows a nationwide search designed to identify one exceptional candidate among a pool of well-qualified applicants. Members of the Commission identified Bradshaw as the most skilled and qualified candidate, with the airport experience and vision necessary to lead this region’s largest airport to continued growth and prosperity.”
Bradshaw and his wife live in Botetourt County so he “can raise horses.” He loves the outdoors, camping and hiking.
He and a group of friends take yearly hiking vacations, alternating between domestic and international destinations. He says he has hiked all over the world and flown to most places over the course of his career. Appropriately, he “loves to travel.”
He has a daughter who lives in the Roanoke area and is employed by Carilion.
He has his pilot’s license but says it has been a while since he has flown, but over the years he has had the opportunity to fly a World War II bomber and the Goodyear Blimp. He says that came up when he was riding in the blimp and the pilot offered to let him take over the controls.
Bradshaw says that in his career he has met every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan. During the 2012 election cycle, he transported First Lady Michelle Obama’s luggage in his truck at the Cedar Rapids airport. He has also met many, many celebrities, including Bob Hope and Robin Williams over the years.
Bradshaw says that his duties as airport director involve airport management, overseeing terminal services, bringing business into the airport, keeping the airport safe, and supervising private aviation. As for security, the Roanoke airport has its own police force and is in the process of creating a Fire/EMS department. Vinton’s former police chief Ben Cook is now the Director of Public Safety at the airport.
Bradshaw describes the Roanoke Blacksburg Regional Airport as a “hub for transportation in Southwest Virginia.”
He notes, “Airports are often the first impression visitors have of a community.”
His goals include building brand longevity and convincing residents of the region to support their hometown airport. He says that “operating an airport with an eye toward economic development” is a given. The airport wants lower-cost service, more flights in and out, and to recruit more airlines. Expansion is a challenge because of the landlocked nature of the Roanoke airport.
What started off as Woodrum Field and then the Roanoke Regional Airport became the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport in 2014—a sign of the times and the need for broader connections in transportation services throughout southwest Virginia. The airport and local governments have high hopes and have placed their trust in Bradshaw to help in accomplishing those goals.