THE BLOG
01/13/2015 04:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hear This: An Unsung Hero

I hadn't taken the trip to the Port Authority Emergency emergency operations center since 9/14/2001. And now there I was again 13 years later, this December, for the naming of that center New Jersey City: the Ernesto Butcher Emergency operations center. If there is another 9/11 the vital arteries of this region will be pumped open by this 3,000 pulsating, wired safe space.

Why Ernesto Butcher? Who was Ernesto Butcher?

2015-01-09-butcher_ernesto.jpg

The Panamanian immigrant and former Peace Corps worker held jobs in every branch of the Port Authority rising to operations chief. He was a lifer. 40 years. And, in the minds of many including his co workers, this lifer was the heart of the Port Authority. He was also a poet who ironically underscored his own destiny.

Though our lights may dim, the
Pathways carved remain forever
Measured evidence of a journey well-traveled.
Lessons learned and passed on, become
The new beacons for generations to come


I witnessed Ernesto carving the path, shining that beacon. After 9/11 had so decimated management at the Port Authority, Ernesto literally moved into the emergency headquarters as the ranking staffer. He knew every vital artery of the massive PA web. Who else could lead resurrection of the city's crucial artery: bridges, tunnels, airports, bus terminals?

From this nondescript building in the middle of Jersey City, Ernesto cranked up his fellow workers who had just witnessed the murder of dozens of colleagues in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

When I visited in those early days of fresh tragedy. I teared up as Port Authority staff lined up to greet me, almost standing at attention. As the widow of the Port Authority's director, I was afraid they were going to salute me. Standing next to my husband's appointed executive director, Ronald Shiftan, I barely notice this unassuming, gentle, dark and handsome engineer. It was Ernesto. In the days that followed Ernesto, Shiftan and I often found ourselves as a team who attended funerals and memorials for lost Port Authority brethren .

Ernesto had the confidence and empathy of a war chaplain. He also had the weight of the region on his shoulders.

Politics at the Port Authority forced the resignation of Ernesto Butcher two years ago. However, Butcher's brethren at the PA who worked along side of him for decades, would not accept this.They had all worked 9/11 and are still bonded by the horror of the day that decimated many of their colleagues. They banded together to immortalize him with the Ernesto Butcher Emergency Operations Center. The closely-knit Port Authority family reunited this December for the naming ceremony and to celebrate the spirit of this clan: Ernesto Butcher. The sad irony is that Ernesto had no clue how much he was beloved and honored. He died of heart attack while jogging, in May. Many think he died of a broken heart over his forced resignation.

It was this renaissance man's character and cool style who led that mosaic of a team through the most devastating moments of their lives.

Ernesto's calmness allowed everyone,even me to lean on him. He never broke. He kept those bridges, airports and tunnels flowing. Post 9/11 New York City survived because of Ernesto Butcher.

We Are As Stars

In the universe of stars in the heavens
Some shine more brightly
Than others, each with
Its own purpose, each with
A destiny all its own.

Similarly, in our realm
We are as stars, shining differently,
Creating destinies and legacies,
Illuminating pathways for others
to follow, leaving memories of our
passage..

Though our lights may dim, the
Pathways carved remain forever
Measured evidence of a journey well-traveled.
Lessons learned and passed on, become
The new beacons for generations to come.
OUR BEECH TREE

Our Beech tree stood majestically,
Gnarled limbs testimony
To years spent quietly
Watching over the often
Used path below.

Passersby seldom looked above
The crudely carved "I love Q"
Etched at eye-level by some heartsick
Teenager during a summer of
First love, long since forgotten.

Snows fall, melt, and fall again
Caressing trunk and limbs
Reluctantly giving way to a lush
Green canopy which in turn
Yields to amber and copper.

Marking the years in dignified silence
Or hushed whispers of wind on leaf
Observing all, it stood,
Until the day the north wind
Arrived vengeful, unprovoked,
Slicing with blades of lighting,
Ravaging it's steadfast strength.

Now, across our wellworn path it lies
Stripped of soaring heights,
No longer home to families of cardinals
That sang and nested in its embrace year after year.

Will it find new solace in the
Swarming world of ants
As it joins the richness of earth below?

There are lessons in life
To be learned from the Beech:

Be Majestic in bearing,
Regal in quiet,
Enduring in patience,
Exquisite in presence,
Honest in seeing,
Humble in acceptance.