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Statue of Liberty overlooking Port of New York and New Jersey. (Photo: Edgar Feliz/Shutterstock).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Two Years is a Lifetime

By Kevin O'Toole, March 08 2022 12:01 am

We are coming up on the once unfathomable two-year anniversary of living through and surviving a global pandemic.  I believe it is a good time to look back on the pandemic as we hit reset and move forward, perhaps wiser, and certainly more appreciative.

With nearly 500 million infected world-wide and nearly 6 million dead, this pandemic made its deep and permanent impression upon all in the human race.  In the US, we experienced 80 million cases with over 950 thousand deaths, and those numbers continue to grow. We all know individuals who have suffered and many of us know loved ones who passed away because of this insidious virus.

In retrospect, this pandemic snuck up on us in the early weeks of 2020 and none of us knew what to make of it. At that time, many of us had no, or very little, appreciation for the magnitude of this impending disaster.  Early on, some thought it was trivial or a localized outbreak in China. Sadly, it was breathtakingly more reaching than first reported.

In the early weeks, many of us did not know how or what to react to. However, all remember when it struck home.  I recall vividly receiving the early morning March 9, 2020, phone call from Rick Cotton, Port Authority Executive Director, about the mandatory quarantine among many in our senior staff and, at that precise moment, we had to make up a game plan on the fly.

For the Port Authority, it meant keeping our employees and their families safe, while keeping open the vitally important avenues of transportation and commerce. On that day, and many times thereafter, Rick and I had a somber conversation. We acknowledged that there wasn’t a grand game plan or play book to assist us in this time of need, but we knew the one truth was that failure wasn’t an option.

The very purpose of the then 99-year-old Port Authority is to endure, as it has, and keep everyone moving forward.  Upon reflection, I would never have guessed in the early weeks of 2020 what the agency would look like two years later. It seems like a lifetime ago.

Make no mistake, it was the steel will and indomitable spirt of the Port Authority employees, past, present, and future, which allowed for its survival and continuity of progress.

Today, the Port Authority is resolute and strong, moving forward with a comprehensive and well- developed  plan. We are moving back to pre-pandemic life, as our numbers return to “so called” normal. I can never thank the 8,000 employees and our countless partners enough for persisting.

The Senior Staff, and you know who you are, are a special breed of leaders who coached, mentored, and led though this crusade. Some leaders just lead, no matter what.

Let’s bear in mind that fully two thirds of the agency’s work force came to work every day, even when scared of the unknown. How do you say thank you for that? Others worked remotely (longer days and nights for many) all to keep the Port Authority focused and operating.

We can’t say thank you enough.

To the once in a generation leader, Rick Cotton, I say thank you for your leadership, poise, and stewardship. You are a remarkable human being. The Port Authority emerges out of this pandemic stronger and more purposeful largely due to your singular ability to calmly manage while under fire.

To my fellow Commissioners, thank you for leading and providing the agency with steady and stable leadership – this region owes you all a debt of gratitude.

It is time move forward to our new reality with appreciation and perspective.

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