When Paul Abbott came to what was then LeTourneau College in 1968, he thought he might someday want to be a missionary. Four decades later, he sees how God has multiplied his and his wife’s impact — more than if they had gone to the mission field themselves.
The new Paul and Betty Abbott Aviation Center at East Texas Regional Airport is named in honor of this couple whose faithfulness throughout the years has made a lasting impact on LeTourneau University and its aviation students.
“Every institution has a few people who embody the mission and vision of the organization,” said LETU President Dale A. Lunsford. “Paul and Betty Abbott are just such people. Their actions, their commitment of time and resources, and their godly character make an eternal impact for Christ—all of which make them the perfect choice for this recognition. Their names and their witness, we believe, will inspire others to give and by doing so inspire students to serve in every workplace and in every nation.”
Today, Paul and Betty own Covington Aircraft Engines, Inc., in Okmulgee, Okla. It is a world leader in aircraft engine overhaul and repair, specializing in Pratt & Whitney radial and turbine engines. The company also installs and tests engines in addition to providing parts to customers all over the world.
When Paul graduated in 1971 with his degree in aviation technology, he and Betty with their young son, Luke, moved to Oklahoma where Paul went to work for a mission organization. The Abbotts were blessed within a few years with another son, Aaron, and a daughter, Cassandra.
“Betty and I had dedicated our lives to the Lord during a mission conference at LETU,” Paul said. “We thought about mission work and had found a small organization at the airport at Okmulgee where I would run the maintenance end of it. I was supposed to come on faith, because they weren’t paying anything.”
“They gave me a job with the city part time at the airport to make money refueling aircraft, sweeping the hangar and mowing grass,” Paul said. “I was paid something like $1.27 per hour with no benefits for 35 hours a week. I was making about $45 a week and still paying on Luke’s hospital and doctor bills, as well as on our student loans.”
Then Bob Covington came to Oklahoma and started a new company. “God opened the doors for me to work with Bob,” Paul said. “I helped get the shop set up and FAA approved in 1972. I learned a lot from him. In 1975, Bob asked if I wanted to buy the business. At the time, we had six employees.”
After praying about what to do, Paul and Betty purchased the company in 1975. Long gas lines at the pumps in those days signaled lean times, but it strengthened their faith.
“We went a few weeks without selling anything,” Paul said. “We had bought a business when I was 29 and inexperienced, but God taught us to trust Him. After a few weeks, we sold an engine. The business started picking up, and from 1976 through 1981, we expanded, adding a new building every year and hiring and training new employees.”
Today, the company has 60 employees in two locations, and it exports nearly half of its engines out of the country.
From that very first year of owning the company, their godly character was clearly evident in the way they conducted their business, providing opportunities for their employees to come to know Christ and grow spiritually through regular chapel services, offered in much the same way that LETU founder R.G. LeTourneau did in his day.
“God kept blessing our business, and He enabled us to support others who served on the mission field,” Paul said. “The more we gave, the more the business grew, because we were using the money for Him. I hesitate talking about it, because I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging on ourselves, because I’m bragging on God.”
“Sometimes new employees are startled to hear me say God owns our house, our cars, this business, and that we are just here managing it,” Paul said. “I believe God owns it all. And with that in mind, I try to be a better manager. I know we’ve got to ask Him for wisdom to manage it in the right way to bring Him honor and glory.”
The Abbotts have consistently and generously contributed financial support to efforts at LETU such as the Marty Donner Engine Test Facility, NIFA student flight competitions and scholarships for students, including those pursuing careers in mission aviation. They also contributed aircraft engines and parts for use by LETU’s School of Aeronautical Science.
Paul has participated in a real and substantial way on the Aeronautical Science Advisory Committee, serving as an inaugural member and as its chairman. He has offered his company’s expertise to the university by providing Pratt & Whitney PT-6 engine training to the university's turbine engine instructor. Also, with Betty’s support, Paul has made even a broader impact on the university by serving as a trustee since 2002.
“Attending LeTourneau helped me to grow spiritually and academically,” Paul said. “I believe LeTourneau helped build my character, and I appreciated the way the instructors took a special interest in each student. The devotional at the beginning of each class was not only an encouragement, but it also helped prepare us to learn during our class time.”
With the help of friends like the Abbotts, incredible gains have been made in LETU’s aviation programs. LETU graduates have long made a difference in mission organizations, airlines, and in corporate travel around the world. In the past few years, LETU has increased the breadth of its programs with new concentrations in mission and military aviation. In addition, the FAA has authorized LETU as the first college in Texas to offer an air traffic control program.
So what do they think about their name on the new Paul and Betty Abbott Aviation Center? “We feel honored and humbled by it,” Paul said. “I never dreamed we’d see our name on a building. Yet while it is an honor that the university would do that, we feel that if we can share our testimony, then God will be honored for His faithfulness in bringing us through.”