WHYY's This I Believe Home

WHYY FM Schedule

Listen Live!

Back to WHYY FM

Lou Gambaccini

June 12, 2009

There's something quite fascinating about a large computer map showing an intricate grid of subways and trains crisscrossing the city and region. Running a large transportation system is infinitely more complicated than that and for years Lou Gambaccini has been recognized as one of the most prominent transportation general managers throughout the North East. After overseeing the New York and New Jersey Port Authorities for 30 years and SEPTA for almost nine years, Lou Gambaccini likes to remember how his commitment to public service started at an early age.

The only son of Italian immigrants, I developed a passion for government and public service at an early age.

When I was eight years old, on a family trip to Washington DC, I was mesmerized by the nation's capital. It was September 1939 and World War II broke out while we were there.

Two years later, while listening to my favorite radio program on a Sunday afternoon, I heard it interrupted by the announcement that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

That's when I began clipping newspaper articles and tracking the progress of the war.

Other boys worshipped heroes in the field of sports and entertainment; my heroes were all the military and civilian leaders of the Allies.

I greatly admired the people who guided us through the Great Depression and World War II.

I was thrilled to read of their decisions and deeds. I felt gratified that were blessed with their courage, integrity and determination.

I always knew I wanted a career in public service. I avidly consumed books on biography, history, politics and war. In college and graduate school, my education was always focused on government and public affairs.

My love of public service continued unabated through a fifty year public career with experiences as wide ranging as military service in Korea in the early 1950' to executive positions in various public agencies. I never regretted the choice.

And I never forgot an inscription on the wall of the foyer of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University where I received my Masters degree in Public Administration. It was the Athenian Oath of City-State.

"We will ever strive for the ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many, we will unceasingly seek to quicken the sense of public duty; we will revere and obey the city's laws; we will transmit this city not only no less, but greater, better and more beautiful that it vas transmitted to us."

That simple oath has been a source of inspiration throughout my entire career. I use that oath periodically to stimulate others in pondering their obligations as public servants. This was particularly pertinent when I was asked to direct a large department of state government and felt uneasy about prior intermittent incidents in the department, involving financial improprieties in the management of contracts.

I was moved to use the Athenian Oath to rally a renewed commitment by the staff to even higher standards of performance.

A framed copy of the Oath has remained hanging in the foyer of the department for the past thirty years and has been signed by my successors and quoted by them in innumerable speeches and house journal articles. In short, the message endures.

I believe that all public officials - elected and appointed - should be sworn to a similar oath.