Ernesto Butcher, Port Authority official who oversaw 9/11 response, dies

By Kathleen O’Brien The Star-Ledger

In this 1997 file photo, Ernesto Butcher is in his Port Authority office overseeing the toll lanes of the Lincoln Tunnel. (Star-Ledger file photo)

In this 1997 file photo, Ernesto Butcher is in his Port Authority office overseeing the toll lanes of the Lincoln Tunnel. (Star-Ledger file photo)

Ernesto Butcher, who ran the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, died Thursday in Maplewood.He was 69.

At the time of the attacks, Butcher was chief operating officer of the bi-state agency that owned the Twin Towers, having worked his way up through the aviation, PATH, commerce, and bridges and tunnels divisions.

The agency lost 84 employees that day, including its executive director.

Butcher and others established a new command post at Journal Square in Jersey City. During the next hours and days, they had to safeguard the region’s bridges, tunnels, airports and ports, aid in the Ground Zero rescue effort, find new offices, and provide support to the grieving families of their lost co-workers.

“Ernesto was the glue that held people together,” said Rick Larrabee, director of port commerce for the Port Authority. He and Butcher both evacuated their offices in 1 World Trade Center and were conferring in the lobby of the Marriott hotel when the collapse of the other tower separated them, Larrabee said.

Neither was injured, in part because their section of the hotel had been strengthened after the 1993 bombing in the World Trade Center parking garage.

“He’d grown up with the agency,” Larrabee said. “So he had a total and independent knowledge of the agency, and what made it work. It was really Ernesto’s leadership that got us through those first couple of weeks.”

In a resolution passed by the PANYNJ commission at his retirement two years ago, the agency said that in the aftermath of the terrorist attack, Butcher “was a beacon of hope and courage through his steadying presence and calm demeanor, providing leadership and guidance in the efforts to recover and rebuild, providing comfort for the survivors, and becoming in the eyes of staff a transcendent force, rising above the tragedy and chaos of that terrible day.”

Butcher was born in Panama, moving to the United States when he was 16, said his wife, Kristen Peck Butcher. After graduation from Hunter College, he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Korea. After getting a masters degree, he went to work as a management trainee for the Port Authority, and spent his whole career there.

Earlier in his career, he was responsible for implementing exact-toll lanes at the George Washington Bridge, transforming the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which included a homeless outreach program, and overseeing a safety program for the Tunnels, Bridges and Terminals department.

A fitness buff who studied tai chi, Butcher collapsed while on his daily walk, according to his wife.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Mijha Godfrey, of Atlanta; four stepchildren, Hannah Goldman, Eliot Goldman, Claire Goldman, and Chisa Hutchinson; a sister, Aldigh Butcher, and a brother, Bobby Butcher.

A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 23 at St. George’s Episcopal Church, 550 Ridgewood Road, Maplewood.

This entry was posted in 9/11 Community. Bookmark the permalink.