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Instructor Highlight: Paul Letersky

How does a former secretary to J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Special Agent, Sky Marshall, Head of Security for United Airlines, and Vice President of Pan American World Airways arrive at Tillamook Bay Community College? It is a long story. A long, fascinating story.

What inspired you to go into a career with the FBI?

I wasn’t inspired. It happened by chance. While a senior in college completing my Bachelor’s degree in education, I visited the New York State Police barracks, which was located on our campus, to see if they had a program where I could become a State Trooper and have them pay for my graduate degree. They did not have such a program so I declined their appointment offer as a trooper. Coincidently, an FBI Agent was also in the barracks and overheard my conversation. He approached me and asked; “How would you like to work for the FBI? We can find you a position with the Bureau in Washington, D.C. and while there you could attend law school. Once having a law degree you could enter Special Agent training.” While attending evening classes at the University of Baltimore law school and working in the Bureau’s public relations department during the day, a secretarial position on J. Edgar Hoover’s personal office staff was needed. I was appointed to that position. Our history is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. Most citizens cannot comprehend what had occurred during that era. Addressing that concern, I reveal many untold stories in my recently completed memoir.

There were many exciting adventures in which I was involved as an FBI Special Agent; from being assigned as one of the first Sky Marshalls to study terrorism and prevent aircraft hijackings, to actually being involved in a shoot-out with a skyjacker. I was periodically placed on loan the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and in that capacity co-authored the “Air Carrier Standard Security Program”, which is the basis for today’s airport passenger screening. I have been involved in several high profile cases that grabbed national headlines to include the Unabomber investigation. Percy Wood, who was president of United Airlines and my boss at the time, was the Unabomber’s fourth victim.

What brought you to Tillamook Bay Community College?

I moved to Bend, Ore. to be near one of my daughters, and met a woman storyteller. Together, we moved to Portland and discovered it was not our town. We really wanted to live near the ocean and decided to move to Nehalem. I was very impressed with the Community College and stopped in where I met Amy Alday-Murray. During our discussion of my previous teaching experience at New Haven University, and my practical real work experience, it seemed that I could bring some benefit to the college’s criminal justice program.

What do you love best about teaching at TBCC?

The gratification I get from helping students and seeing them succeed. I have a student in my class that wants to go on to law school and become a district attorney. I also have students who are barely able to keep up due to many life commitments such as being a parent, the need to work fulltime and attending classes. I know how hard that can be and am able to identify with the demographics in Tillamook. I grew up in a relatively poor, ethnic neighborhood and was the first in my family to attend college. I had to work throughout my undergraduate studies and law school.

Tell me about your teaching approach?

I tell my students that; “I am not here just to teach you Criminal Justice, I am here to help you learn to think.” In most of my classes I arrange classroom tables in a circle as opposed to the traditional row after row. The circle configuration encourages a student face-to-face debate on our course content. We express different points of view on assigned papers where each student can learn how to frame their opinion and support it with their arguments. I want all my students to succeed and to become critical thinkers. Life has taught me many lessons and now it is time for giving back. When I see a student succeed, it genuinely warms my heart.

Paul Letersky has recently published a book, ‘The Director: My Years Assisting J. Edgar Hoover.’ The book is available for sale in bookstores and on Amazon.

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