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When two members of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey were killed during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Director of Aviation William DeCota worked hard with the Queens Botanical Garden to make sure their lives were honored by naming trees after them.
After DeCota died in September at the age of 52, the Botanical Garden’s administrators decided to return the favor by dedicating its “tree of life” to him and his work. Dozens of PA colleagues, friends and family gathered at the garden last Thursday to celebrate the renaming ceremony for the administrator.
Frank Mirovsky, chairman of the Queens Botanical Garden Society, described DeCota as a caring, methodical man who was dedicated to his job but never too busy to lend a helping hand to his friends.
“You cannot come to a memorial tree dedicated to someone you knew or loved and not think good feelings,” he said.
DeCota joined the PA in 1982 and 17 years later was named director of aviation. During his long tenure as director, he oversaw the operations at John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International airports and helped to acquire Stewart International Airport in upstate New York.
Colleagues said DeCota was casual with his staff, telling corny jokes, giving advice about automobiles and being the “unofficial chauffeur” during events.
“Everyone had a Bill story,” Susan Baer, the current director of aviation for the PA, said.
DeCota’s dedication to his staff was most apparent after the Sept. 11 attacks, which took the lives of several PA employees, including Neil Levin, the agency’s executive director, and Richard Pearlman, a Boy Scouts member who was at the World Trade Center.
DeCota, who also served as president of the Queens Council of the Boy Scouts of America, had the Botanical Garden rename two trees after both men and set up an endowment fund for the garden in Levin’s name.
“Bill DeCota was instrumental at having these memorial trees in this garden,” Mirovsky said.
For DeCota’s memorial tree, which is next to Levin’s and Pearlman’s, the Botanical Garden chose an emerald green arborvitae, or tree of life, according to Susan Lacerte, executive director for the Botanical Garden.
Lacerte said she and her administrators chose the tree species, which was the first American tree to be introduced in Europe, because it represented the strength that the PA head showed during his life.
“I only met him a few times, but he is that rare individual that strikes you immediately,” she said.
Mirovsky said the tree would grow not only in size but also in appreciation from DeCota’s loved ones.
“I hope if Bill can observe us today ... he can say, ‘Good job,’” he said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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