Text By Neal Buccino, Senior Public Information Officer
Video Produced By Rudy King, Public Information Officer
The George Washington Bridge is finishing its seventh consecutive October with its mighty steel cables lit pink, rather than their usual white, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As the video created by Public Information Officer Rudy King shows, swapping out the tints of The George’s 156 necklace lights is not a simple undertaking, even though a team of Port Authority electricians can complete the job in about an hour as part of their routine maintenance of the lights.
The task requires walking along the bridge’s main steel suspension cables, each of which is a yard in diameter, and inserting by hand a pink studio gel into each of the lights. As a special tribute to those fighting the disease, many of the gels bear the hand-written names of individual patients, who get to keep the gels after they’re removed.
The work of placing the pink gels starts at the tops of the GWB’s two towers, which stand 604 feet above water. Not a job for anyone squeamish about height, though it offers spectacular views of New Jersey’s wooded Palisades, the New York City skyline, the Hudson River, and the occasional passing hawk. It was Port Authority electrician Chris Bonanno who came up with the idea of lighting The George pink to show support for his sister Regina Rohn while she battled breast cancer, as well as all individuals and families who’ve had to fight the disease.
Bonanno, whose sister is a breast cancer survivor, insists that actually bringing the idea into reality was only possible thanks to the support and efforts of his teammates on the George Washington Bridge electrical crew.
“It seemed that every one of us had a personal connection to breast cancer. For me it was my sister. For other guys it was their mothers or wives,” said Bonanno, who wore a pink hard hat throughout October.
What does it mean to illuminate one of New York’s and New Jersey’s best known icons with bright pink lights each year? Bonanno says, “’awareness’ means showing people who are fighting the disease that you’re not alone. There are people out there who are supporting you. Someone has your back.
“But to my sister ‘awareness’ means prevention. Reminding people to get screened for cancer before it happens. I think it’s great that we’re bringing these messages here.”
Thankfully Regina’s cancer is in remission. She recently told The Record newspaper, “I’ve never had a kinder, more touching present. … It’s for all women and for all men … for all people who have cancer.”
It’s her hope that this annual event reminds everyone to make their health a priority. If the lights on the bridge inspires just one person to get a mammogram or other health screenings, that would make the endeavor completely worthwhile. Says Regina, “This illness can be an illness you survive. Being vigilant is so important.”