By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett
Susan Baer left an indelible mark on the Port Authority, becoming the agency’s first woman aviation director and a highly respected transportation industry pioneer, breaking down silos and cracking the glass ceiling of an industry long dominated by males.
Baer, who died last week at the age of 65, was the only person, man or woman, to manage all three major metropolitan airports run by the Port Authority — JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International. Before transitioning to the agency’s Aviation Department, she also ran the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Lincoln Tunnel.
During her 37-year agency career, Baer’s accomplishments were all the more impressive coming as they did at a time the Port Authority was a male-dominated agency. Baer, who eventually became an influential role model for so many young transportation professionals, understood the power of a helping hand. Throughout her career, she was an enthusiastic supporter of women in aviation and regularly provided others with access to her network.
Diane Papaianni, general manager of New Jersey Airports, occupies what was once Baer’s old office at Newark Liberty. “I think of her often. I learned so much from her over the years. Her ability to take control of a room and manage the most complicated issues with a level of confidence and enthusiasm always amazed me. “
“On the one hand there was Sue the leader sharing her aviation and PA experiences with you, and on the other hand, there was Sue sharing her family life and baking skills with you,” Papaianni recalled. “In the midst of her hectic day, she always remembered to ask you about your family as well.”
Sharon DeVivo, president of Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, where Baer served on the board for the last 23 years, said she was instrumental in helping develop the college’s first airport management curriculum. “She was invested completely in the success of all our students,” DeVivo said. “She touched thousands of students.”
Pat Foye, the Port Authority’s executive director, said that in turn for her “professionalism, integrity and leadership” at the Port Authority, her colleagues rewarded her with “fierce loyalty.”
That sense of loyalty and respect was widespread. Lillian Borrone first met Baer in the 1970s when she was one of the young college leadership fellows rotating among various departments at the Port Authority. In recent years, Borrone, former director of Port Commerce, shared an important connection with Baer while working on behalf of the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS), an international organization dedicated to the professional advancement of women in transportation.
“She understood the importance of being an exemplar – especially to women, but also men as well,” said Borrone, who believes that the experience Baer gained at the Port Authority, working at both the staff and line department levels, gave her both special insight and opportunities to pass along skills of great value.
On 9/11, Baer was at the helm of Newark Liberty and watched the destruction of the World Trade Center before helping to shut down airport operations, then restart them in the anxious days following the attack.
Baer was also focused on the people needs of airport travelers, not just brick and mortar issues. The customer service representative program, the “Red Coats,” was developed and flourished under her leadership. One of her major goals while at the Port Authority was advocating for NextGen, the satellite-based technology that allows planes to fly more efficiently using GPS instead of ground-based radar.
Tom Bosco, who succeeded Baer as Port Authority aviation director, said, “Sue Baer was the consummate professional, a skilled manager and an inspirational leader. I always admired her energy and steadfast commitment to both her family and the job. Even while battling illness, she maintained a grueling schedule that could have easily grounded the strongest among us.”
A graduate of Barnard College with a master’s degree in business administration from New York University, Baer held numerous memberships in professional organizations, including the Aviation Women’s Association, Airports Council Institute, the American Association of Airport Executives, the Newark Museum and the Wings Club.
Summing up her career in a 2013 interview with USA Today, Baer said, “What I’ve tried to do is give other women opportunities and that’s something all women should be doing. It was hard for us to get here, but we ought to be making it easier for people who are coming behind us.”
Geoffrey Arend here who with Tim Peirce saved the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport in 1980.
We masterminded the restoration of the giant mural inside MAT painted by James Brooks in 1940-42.
In 1986 US Government FAA and US National Historic Trust honored Pierce and me both in a celebration hosted by US Transportation Secretary Elizabeth H. Dole in Washington DC, for “Outstanding Contributions to Aviation & Historic Preservation.
The Brooks mural “Flight” a WPA masterpiece was painted over with gray wall paint -all 237 and a half feet 12 high of it by the Port Authority in 1952 during the Senator Joseph MacCarthy era “red scare witch hunt”.
Preservation Effort At Newark Airport
Earlier in 1976 I had been working alone at Newark Airport to save Building One a 1934 art deco masterpiece that the Port Authority for a decade plus had been allowing to be used as a warehouse , a cargo terminal , a postal facility -you name it.
History Alive At Building One
Building One( that Port Authority numbered Building 51 during that time )was home of the world’s first air traffic control tower(1934) ,the art of abstract genius Arshile Gorky, and was of immense design power in every detail of its construction.
The problem was that the building in the late 1970s sat squat at the end of one of EWR’s main runways.
I wrote, paid for a ran off 5000 copies of a coffee table book in 1978 with scores of pictures of the building from the 1930’s .
Charles Cummings at the Newark Public Library was a great help. Happy to report that after Charlie passed Newark Library named a reading room after him.
Great Airports 1928-1978 came out and as Joe Vanacore the EWR Airport Manager at the time said: “made a statement” that Building One needed to be saved because of it’s immense beauty and historic importance.
The book “Great Airports Newark 1978” gained Port Authority Aviation Director Bob Aaronson’s attention and further talk of tearing Building One down was shelved while a group including New Jersey Historical , Port Authority, myself a couple of airport mangers that succeeded Joe Vanacore and others looked for another solution.
This work continued to gain a solid foot hold and much momentum through the managerial era of Vince Bonaventura through the 1980s into 1990s.
Recalling Sue Baer S/H
All of this is by way of my view and time with Sue Baer.
Very saddened to here that she has passed in 2016 and send sincere condolences to he family.
Sue succeeded Tim Peirce who had served as manager of LaGuardia Airport for nearly 20 years.
I recall that she did not treat Tim in a very professional manner.
We lost touch but Sue was indeed moving up the chain at Port Authority; a true female pioneer in the airport management business.
I believe she went from LaGuardia Airport to JFK International Airport before she popped up as Manager at Newark International Airport.
Shut Out At Building One
Although I alone had envisioned saving Building One and wrote a book about it that actually was utilized by the people that ended up with contracts to restore the facility, and had been available at every turn to help in getting the preservation right doiwn to the smallest detail.Sue never called or asked for any help at all from me.
When Building One was rededicated we were not even invited o the ceremony but heard about it an d showed up anyway.
Sue Baer had decided to put herself centerstage as the shining star of the saving of Building One .
While undoubtedly she was important to the Newark Building One restoration project as manger of the airport , her callous disregard for everybody else except herself as the pictures in this article underscore, in my view was simply not right.
I remember at the rededication of Building One thinking about the years when I spent one day a week editing my newspaper Air Cargo News in the Building One .
Vinnie Bonaventura had opened a small airport press office to work out of there in the mostly empty facility.
I remember going into that glass control tower a carbuncle atop the building where some guys in the Weather Bureau (also located in Building One) were growing their marijuana .
I remember the night Bob Aronson came out to Newark Airport and toured Building One with me and pledged to do something about saving that building.
I guess the best memory was sitting in that beautiful place Building One during it’s restoration opening day with my friend Mannie Berlinrut who in 1934 as an editor at the Evening Call a local newspaper covered the opening of Building One and it’s first dedication by Amelia Earhart.
Amelia used to hangar her blood red Lockheed Vega at Newark Airport (Read Mannies story in my book Great Airports Newark).
Mannie and me at that second opening day some 20 years ago were just so glad to see Building One back.
Nothing else mattered.
But now alas Mannie is gone and so is Sue Baer.
Time to set the record straight.
Queens New York
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