Traffic-Control Inspector
John Hester keeps cars moving

By Maria Jose Subiria


A woman pulling a rolling suitcase walked to the edge of the sidewalk near the South Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. At the crosswalk, she hesitated for a moment. "Come on little lady," John Hester shouted in her direction, before the woman stepped off the curb toward the terminal.

Hester, a traffic-control inspector for the Atlanta Police Department at Hartsfield-Jackson, whistles loudly, and speaks loudly, while directing pedestrians and auto traffic at the world's busiest airport. "If I feel like I can protect you, I'll raise my voice," he said.

"I am trying to get you to hear me through the trains, and airplanes. I am not trying to scream at you."

Hester said he began working at the airport in 2003, and has been with the Atlanta Police Department for almost 10 years. According to Hester, preventing accidents and keeping pedestrians safe are the most important parts of his job. He is at his post on weekdays, with the exception of every other Friday, from 6:30 a.m., to 2:30 p.m.

"You've got to be very observant," he said. "You can't watch one car, you've got to watch all of them ... I am like a traffic light."

The 59-year-old Hester said his day begins with a regular police roll call. During his shift, his assignments include working posts at the north or south baggage or ticketing areas.

"The toughest part of my job is asking people to move their cars," said Hester. "Some are nice and move."

Hester said vehicles are not allowed to stay on the inside curb for an extended period of time because it disrupts the flow of traffic. It is also a safety issue, and traffic-control inspectors may become suspicious of drivers.

"I don't know if they've got a weapon," he said. "We don't carry weapons, just the Lord Jesus Christ ... that's who I trust in."

Besides directing traffic, traffic-control inspectors assist the public in obtaining wheelchairs, fixing flat tires, and unlocking cars when people have left their keys inside, he said.

While he is actively involved in his local church, Hester said he has also been a chaplain for the Atlanta Police Department at the airport since 2003. He said it never occurred to him to become a chaplain until a co-worker suggested that he had the skills, and abilities, to fill that position. As a chaplain, he attends training sessions twice a year, with instructors such as psychiatrists, Atlanta Police officers and mentors.

Hester said his role as a chaplain is a rewarding one.

"There was a lady who pulled up in a convertible, and I could tell there was a lot going through her mind ... she had terminal cancer, and I held her hand, and we started praying together," he said. "My job is to move cars, but any time God gives you a discernment of people, and you see someone hurting ... cars come second."

Hester said he is an elder with Latter Day Ministries in Atlanta, having begun his involvement with the church in 1986 when his pastor, a childhood friend, invited him to one of the services.

Hester said that during his adolescence, he had a strong interest in automobile mechanics. He graduated from George Washington Carver High School in Atlanta in 1968 and began work.

"I started working for this guy, at an automotive company, and once I got into that, I realized that it wasn't for me, working on other people's cars," said Hester.

Hester said he began working at Grady Health System in Atlanta in the early 1970s, and retired in 1998 after 27 years of service to the hospital.

He said that after retirement, his wife thought he was depressed, and advised him to return to work. "My wife said I had to go to work," Hester said. "I was trying to relax."

He said he decided to apply to the City of Atlanta, but forgot about the position after not hearing from the city for some time. He joined Delta Air Lines in a security position, but after six months, he said the City of Atlanta contacted him for the traffic-control inspector position and he decided to take it.

Hester said he was recognized as the Atlanta Police Department's employee of the month at the airport in February. His plaque, which includes a picture of himself, hangs at the Atlanta Police Department's station at Hartsfield-Jackson.