By Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff
Clarelle DeGraffe wanted to be an engineer since she was five years old. Little did the Haitian-born DeGraffe know that 29 years after she joined the Port Authority as a civil engineer, she would become the first woman to lead PATH in its 57-year history.
“Every Commissioner here is proud of your 29 years at the Port Authority,” said Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole at the agency’s Board meeting last week. “There was a search that we did and we looked high and low for someone to lead this agency and we came back right here, to you. We have full faith you can get the job done.”
“We have enormous confidence in her,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton at the same meeting. “She has 29 years with the Port Authority serving in a variety of roles, all of which she has discharged with great distinction. And she has been an excellent deputy director at PATH for the last four years. There is simply no one better equipped to take this leadership position at PATH than Clarelle DeGraffe.”
After immigrating to the United States and reuniting with her parents, DeGraffe drew strong encouragement from her mother, who believed DeGraffe could do anything she wanted to in life, including becoming an engineer, a traditionally male-dominated profession.
“Civil engineering is in my DNA,” said DeGraffe, whose father also was a civil engineer. “It always fascinated me seeing buildings, highway projects and bridges. I always dreamt of being a part of designing and constructing such massive projects.”
During her high school years at Brooklyn Technical High School, DeGraffe’s passion for engineering grew, and she graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology with a degree in Civil Engineering.
Her first assignment at the Port Authority was as a construction engineer at John F. Kennedy Airport, where she pioneered as the first woman in that office. Her career path led her to a major role as the Deputy Program Director of the Newark Liberty International Airport AirTrain project in1998. While DeGraffe was still in this role – and seven months pregnant – she watched the Twin Towers fall. On that day, she lost 13 of her colleagues and she honored their memories by joining the recovery efforts and by helping to rebuild the World Trade Center site.
DeGraffe held project management roles in World Trade Center Construction, where she held a key role in overseeing major projects, including the World Trade Center Vehicle Security Center and redevelopment of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub.
“You were on every day,” DeGraffe said, describing working at the site after 9/11 as a “defining season” in her life. “This was a time for professional and emotional growth. You either blossomed or you broke down.”
Before she joined PATH in 2014, DeGraffe oversaw its $3.5 billion capital program and managed the development, funding and delivery of World Trade Center Construction’s Sandy Recovery Program. She served in various capacities within PATH, but when she was placed in Operations, she interacted directly with people as they moved on to trains, giving her a new sense of purpose. “It was like introducing color to my world,” she said.
One year later, DeGraffe was named the Deputy Director for PATH, a position she held until being named Director/General Manager.
In her new role, DeGraffe will carry out PATH’s mission of safely and efficiently moving nearly 300,000 passengers daily across the Hudson River. She will oversee implementation of PATH’s capital program, including the ongoing project to replace equipment and rebuild tunnels that were damaged during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, oversee the completion of the remaining phases of Communications-Based Train Control, and take on the challenge of continuing to improve PATH’s reliability and focus on customer experience initiatives.
When she’s not at work, DeGraffe serves as a Youth Pastor at Grace Gospel Tabernacle in Queens, where she mentors children by guiding them to make the right choices in life along with her husband, Senior Pastor Wilton. During their free time, the couple enjoys watching action films together and raising a 17-year-old son, who aspires to be just like his mother, a civil engineer.
DeGraffe is a recipient of the 2008 Harlem Black Achievers Award, a 2013 Honoree in Professional Women in Construction and a 2018 recipient of a Congressional Certificate of Merit for her community service in Southeast Queens.
As she embarks on her trailblazing role, DeGraffe vows to bring a new perspective to PATH and asks her staff to have an open mind as they collaborate together to move the railroad to best in class.