Obituary – Gerard Varlotta, helped build the World Trade Center

Adam Lidgett The Island Now

Great Neck resident Gerard Varlotta always wanted more out of life – for his children, for his wife and for himself.

“I couldn’t imagine having a better father,” Varlotta’s son, also named Gerard, said of his father who died Feb. 27 at age 87 of natural causes. “He wanted more love, more for family. Whatever he did he did it to the fullest. He lived life to fullest always wanted more for everybody.”

Varlotta’s wife Isabel, who he married in 1956, said even when her husband was put in a coma in 2007 following colostomy operation, he was still trying to get as much out of life as possible.

“He was not expected to live long, but he was a determined man – he was a very persistent man,” said Isabel, who served as the mayor of the Village of Great Neck from 1993 to 1997. “Even though he was in a wheelchair he was always trying to get up and walk. He had a lot of determination.”

Isabel and her husband were next door neighbors growing up in The Bronx.

At the time, she said, the two were just friends.

“He would get me dates with his fraternity brothers,” Isabel said.

Varlotta enlisted in the Navy in 1945, serving in Canada during the last months of World War II.
Isabel said when he came back from the U.S. Navy in 1946, he went off the college.

Varlotta’s son said his father’s childhood interest in engineering led him to earn a degree at New York University in Mechanical Engineering after he was discharged from the Navy. He went on to study engineering in Europe on a Fulbright Scholarship.

“When he came back from his Fulbright Scholarship, he broke up with his then girlfriend and we started dating,” Isabel said.

Varlotta went to work for the New York City Department of Water Supply but soon became restless, his son Gerard said.

In 1960, he established GDL Construction Corp. – which eventually became Varlotta Construction Corp. – a group that specialized in underground construction of all kinds, his son Gerard said.

Gerard said his father felt like he could do more than what the city had to offer.
“He wanted to run own company and a lot of people told him engineering was a tough business and tried to discourage him,” he said. “He was very headstrong and he had self-confidence in his abilities.”

Gerard said his father’s idea was to be able to repair pumps and water mains 20 inches in size – like the New York City water department – but to also be able to handle larger ones.

Varlotta’s company was involved in some of the biggest underground projects in New York City history, including the installation of all the water mains for the original World Trade Center and the World Financial Center, his son Gerard said.
Although he retired in 1992, Varlotta still served as a consultant in the construction industry in New York City and after the World Trade Center was hit on 9/11, he decided he wanted to be involved with the cleanup.

Varlotta was stuck on a cruise shop near Nova Scotia when he heard of the attacks, his son said. It took him a week to get back, but once he did, he mobilized a team to help clean up Ground Zero, his son Gerard said.

“He was devastated that it happened and felt an obligation to help with the cleanup – he felt an obligation to be involved,” Gerard said. “It was just his nature as a human being that he wanted to be there. He helped build it he wanted to help it in its time of crisis.”

From the 1970s through the 1990s, Varlotta’s company was also responsible for repairing water mains throughout New York City as well as removing snow from LaGuardia and JFK Airports and the parking lots of the Brenden Byrne Arena in New Jersey.

Gerard said his father and mother, Isabel, moved to Great Neck in 1958.

“They grew in The Bronx,” Gerard said of his parents. “They wanted nothing more than to bring their family out of The Bronx and out of the city.”

Isabel said she had friends living in Great Neck that told the couple about the area, and were eventually decided on it to make a family after seeing the quality of its schools and parks.
Isabel served as mayor of the Village of Great Neck from 1993 until 1997. She said her husband supported her in all her throughout her tenure as mayor.

“He was strong willed, had a big heart and was a unique person – one in a million,” Isabel said. “He was a hard worker and a good husband. He raised four children who are all doctors.”

Besides owning his engineering firm, Varlotta also co-owned Billy Bud, a Manhattan restaurant, and held interest in the Flamboyant Hotel and Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rice.

“He enjoyed diversifying and enjoyed being involved in different things,” son Gerard said. “Work – that’s one thing he was never adverse [sic] to.”

Gerard said his father would often work seven days a week all day, sleeping in his car. He said if someone called his father at 2 a.m. to fix a water line, his father would get out of bed and assemble his team.

“He was never one to have grass grow under his feet,” Gerard said. “He was always looking for more to do and for more to be involved in.”

But Varlotta’s life wasn’t all work, according to his family.

One of his greatest hobbies was horse racing. The family said one of his horses, Gerard V, was the winner of the 1973 New York Sire Stake Race.

But Gerard said his father’s greatest interest outside of work was the New York Rangers – he was a 40-year season ticket holder – and being involved in his children’s sporting activities.

Varlotta is survived by Isabel, their sons Gerard and David, daughters Laurie and Lynda and grandchildren Michele, Richard, Kristen, Carolyn, Caroline, Christopher, Stephen and Genna. A wake will be held at Fairchild Funeral Home on March 12, with services to follow on March 13 at St. Aloysius RC Church in Great Neck.

The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Garden of Dreams Foundation or the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

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