David O’Maley was elected to the Embry-Riddle Board of Trustees in 2014. He is Chairman of the Business Partnership Committee and a member of the Development and Finance committees.
Embry-Riddle had a habit of showing up on David O’Maley’s radar every 20 years or so. He drove past a school billboard in Miami, Florida, in the 1970s, flew over the Daytona Beach Campus, bought a nearby home in the 1990s and located Ohio National’s flight operations at Ohio’s Lunken airport, right next to the hangar where Embry-Riddle was founded. Were these just coincidences?
Whatever the case, the aviator has been on a parallel track with Embry-Riddle for many years. “It’s one of those things that might cause you to say there is a little bit of providence to this,” he said.
It would take almost 50 years of being involved in aviation circles for O’Maley’s path to finally intersect directly with Embry-Riddle. A mutual business contact introduced him to then-president Dr. John P. Johnson. That meeting was followed by a series of campus visits that led to a budding philanthropic relationship and, ultimately, to an invitation to join the Board of Trustees in 2014.
Today, the university continues to be a perfect fit, said O’Maley, retired President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Emeritus of the Ohio National Life Insurance Co. The university’s focus and ability to expand within the broader context of aviation—such as design, engineering, weather, and its rich aviation history—regularly renews his inspiration to volunteer his time and talents.
“This is a magnificent place, with fantastic students and faculty. When people have a passion for flight—a passion for aviation—to me, it’s a noticeable differentiator,” said O’Maley. “I’d like to believe I have that and I gravitate to people who have that as well.”
Embry-Riddle also offers O’Maley the opportunity to explore and support his other passion: education. He and his wife Karen established the O’Maley Family Endowed Scholarship for Embry-Riddle business students and they support various scholarships at other universities.
This spirit of generosity was born when O’Maley was struggling to finance his dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot in the 1960s. O’Maley’s onetime benefactor Norm Tener was a casual acquaintance when he took an interest in O’Maley’s education and helped to start him on the path to success, through a loan. He eventually paid the loan off, but always remembered the generous gesture and the difference Tener made in his life.
“His one charge to me was that someday, when I was able, that I do something similar to help other young people further their education. That conversation and that obligation that he sort of passed on to me have not been forgotten,” he said.
While O’Maley did indeed go on to earn his Airline Transport Pilot certificate as well as airframe and powerplant mechanics ratings, he ended up pursuing insurance as his vocation. His avocation of aviation, however, is more than just an average hobby. He and his wife are the joint founders of the Tri-State Warbird Museum in Batavia, Ohio. The museum is dedicated to honoring America’s rich aviation history and features one of the largest collections of flyable World War II aircraft.
Considering how closely aligned his avocation is with Embry-Riddle, supporting the university and its students makes sense, he said, especially when considering the excellent Return on Investment alumni experience in the field. Those potential returns are clear in the national PayScale College Salary Report for private schools in the bachelor’s degree category, which ranks schools based on highest median alumni salaries. According to the 2016-2017 report, Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus ranks No. 1 in Arizona, followed by the Daytona Beach Campus at No. 2 in Florida and the Worldwide Campus at No. 7 in Florida.
Calling Embry-Riddle “an undiscovered diamond,” O’Maley said he is most proud of the tools the students become equipped with to begin their careers in their chosen profession. “The Return on Investment is immeasurable,” he said.
As the university looks forward to its centennial anniversary in 2026, though, there’s more work to be done in ensuring Embry-Riddle’s brand reaches new heights within aviation circles and also within a broader context, said O’Maley, a former chief marketing officer for insurance firm, Life of Virginia. The university is in a position to grow its reputation and be recognized for it.
It’s a goal that can be accomplished with the right leadership, he said, and it’s attainable because the university has shown it is poised for that next step in educational excellence. Over the years, O’Maley has served in advisory roles with four other American universities—experiences that have helped shape his perspective when evaluating Embry-Riddle’s opportunities for growth.
“There’s nothing that those institutions have that Embry-Riddle does not,” he said. “To me, a major mission of marketing is simply to get people to recognize what you have. And it’s clear Embry-Riddle has a remarkable proposition.”