Remembering William R. DeCota

I arrived in Israel this morning and am writing from my hotel room overlooking Old Jerusalem. But my thoughts are thousands of miles away.image001

Bill DeCota, a real giant in the aviation world, and Aviation Director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey passed away this weekend.

Bill was one of the most passionate people I ever met. He was passionate about his airports, about aviation and about the team he had assembled at the Port Authority. He was passionate about the community in which he lived and worked, and he was passionate about his friends.

Bill was among the smartest, most creative people I ever met. And he was surely the most energetic. He almost single handedly put together a nationwide coalition(every state is represented) to broaden the political push for NextGen. If we do end up truly modernizing air traffic control we will owe a debt to Bill.

I always loved talking to Bill. It would be entertaining, it would be useful and it would be memorable. You had to be prepared when you dealt with Bill, he raised your game. I even enjoyed it on those occasions when he told me I needed to do something better than I had been doing it.

I began by mentioning that I am in Jerusalem, part of the Holy Land. I will say a prayer for Bill here. Of thanks for having known him, of gratitude for having been influenced by him, and for the soul of a man I will never forget.

Please share your remembrances  of Bill in the comment box.

Bill DeCota. RIP.

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14 thoughts on “Remembering William R. DeCota

  1. In honor of Bill’s many allusions to the Buddha (including at ACI-NA meetings!), here is one in honor of him:

    On life’s journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.

    Steve Van Beek

  2. Life is full of joys, amazement, and wonders, but it also has its challenges, disappointments, and heartaches. As we grow older, some of us like to think we have life figured out, and then something like Bill DeCota’s death happens. We don’t have life figured out and we never will. I know this to be true because there is no explanation for the premature loss of a man like Bill Decota.

    Hearing of Bill’s death hit me hard, very hard. Over the years, I developed tremendous respect for Bill; he taught me a lot, not only in my professional life but personally as well. I considered him the best of the best in our industry and, without doubt by popular opinion, the most intelligent.

    I first started interacting with Bill when he was named Aviation Director of the NYNJPA; at the time, I was director of FLL. He frequently joked with me that he thought Ft. Lauderdale was the sixth borough of New York. Even more special though, he always made me feel as though I had the more difficult job. I almost started believing that until I stopped for a minute and thought of the magnitude of his responsibilities.

    We all set career goals when we’re young and, for me, I set mine to be the youngest director of a large-hub airport in the US. Why, I don’t know; it just seemed right for me at the time. When I finally made it, I thought I had achieved something special, something few ever could. At the time, there were 32 large-hub airports in the US and FLL was number 32. Then I learned Bill was two years my junior and he ran three large-hub airports, all in the top ten. Even more impressive, though, he never made himself out to be anything special – he taught me humility in a very special way.

    Bill always seemed to have time for everyone who asked for his help or advice. A year or so ago, I learned that a talented woman in our Convention and Visitors Bureau was moving to New York because her husband was relocating there. She wasn’t particularly high level but I contacted Bill and told him I thought she was an “up and comer” and would be a great addition to any organization in New York. I can’t recall what eventually happened to her but I do remember Bill invested a lot of time to help her – someone he didn’t even know. That was just the kind of person he was.

    As we journey through life, we sometimes get the good fortune to meet special people; Bill Decota was such a person for me. I can’t explain why we lost him so early; that’s one of life’s unexplainable circumstances. While I can’t explain why he’s gone, I can cherish the time I had with him and the impact he had on me and my life. In the end, it’s not the bricks and mortar we build but the impact we have on people that define us. On that measure, Bill DeCota was a giant in my book.

    Bill Sherry

    Director of Aviation

    Mineta San Jose International Airport

  3. Bill DeCota was one of a kind and beloved. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Bill when he joined the PANYNJ in the early 80’s. He began in Finance and was tapped, after his tenure in that department, to join our staff in Aviation. He was funny, brillant and always ready to persuade you to his viewpoint, which was usually the right one on an issue.

    As I moved to Management and Budget, Bill and his colleagues,David Plavin, Gerry Fitzgerald and Bill Fife became great allies in our fights to reform our capitol programs, strategic and budget planning and of course,decisions on the level of funds to be reinvested in our facilites.

    Did we have epic battles?
    Yes! But we always laughed and figured out how to make the decisions work for everyone.
    Later on as I ran Port Commerce and Bill moved up the ladder I became one of his mentors.
    Bill was a kind man, a true gentle soul who cared for many and was always ready with a smile and suggestion about how things could be made better.
    He was passionate about his life and his work and cared deeply for his staff. He took on too much but I think he enjoyed every moment.

    Hearing of his death was a shock; he was too young.
    But, I am certain he is looking down on us and urging us to fund NEXTGEN and not allow slots at LGA to be auctioned. I can just hear him.

    Bill, you are in my thoughts.

    Lillian Borrone

  4. My heart hurts for the entire DeCota family and the PANYNJ team. Bill was a fine American, a true New Yorker, a gentleman, and a friend. He was a pioneer for Commercial Aviation and he loved life. He was passionate about “making a difference” and he did that in so many ways. My sincere sympathies to all on Bill’s passing.

    Douglas Hofsass

  5. Bill will be truly missed. From a small airport position, Bill was one of the Large Airport leaders who understood our challenges and demonstrated his willingness to step forward and be heard on our behalf. He was a friend and we will truly miss him.

  6. As many of us in this industry have now heard the sad news of the passing of Bill DeCota, Director of Aviation, for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, I just wanted to add some personal reflections. Bill was a unique and colorful industry leader, a committed visionary within the aviation industry, and a man who was dedicated to giving back to the communities he served. As a part of this dedication to community, he was a strong supporter of many non-profit organizations within our region, both through his financial giving and his generosity of spirit.

    It is safe to say that Bill DeCota will be sorely missed, and his untimely passing will leave a tremendous void within our industry & our community. Bill did not want any wake or funeral, but we can all remember him fondly as we continue to do the work he was so devoted to within our region. I am personally thankful for Bill’s life & the positive impact it had on many of us within the aviation family. I’m also very grateful that the Christ for the World Chapel at JFK was able to honor him as the 2009 Bishop Wright Air Industry Man of the Year. In so many ways, Bill was a man for all years and ‘for all seasons’.

    Our thoughts & prayers go out to his neices, nephews, friends, associates, and all who knew Bill & his wit, wisdom, intelligence, vision, and generous spirit. May he rest in peace, as we remember him with fondness. Sincerely & with deep regret,

    Bill Huisman

  7. It is not everyday one can say that they knew of a decent human being. I can truly say this because I have met Bill DeCota. From the first time I met Bill he was always smiling, had a good thing to say and an unassuming, quick one liner remark that just seemed to flow naturally and perfectly fit the situation. In addition, he was one of the smartest individuals I have ever met. I used to tell him that if I had one tenth of his brain, along with his friend Bob Sudman who seemed to be cut from the same mental cloth, I would be set for life. He just gave me one of his smiles and let it go by. I also admired the fact that, through each of his very well deserved promotions, even at the Director level, he remained down-to-earth and didn’t develop a huge ego as most others seemed to do. Once my office moved to Journal Square after 9/11, I didn’t get an opportunity to see much of Bill but whenever I did, we spoke for a few minutes though I am sure he needed to be somewhere in a hurry. Bill will truly be missed by his friends and family and it is a tremendous loss to the Port Authority.

  8. I choose to celebrate Bill’s life by fondly remembering how much he gently razzed me for leaving the Port Authority, New York City, civilization as we knew it, and moving to Alaska. Bill was relentless. He couldn’t fathom such a move, but he wanted to know all about it. So I obliged.

    Over the years, we exchanged emails and holiday cards, sparring over Alaska politics, who’s got the the best salmon (we locals or Zabars), and whether Juneau Airport should really (really?) be called Juneau International Airport.

    While Bill chided me for leaving the PA, he always let me know that I was part of the aviation family, which I will always cherish. So I raise a glass of pure glacial water to my good friend and colleague, Bill. May he rest in peace.

    Anne Stadnychenko
    Juneau, Alaska

    (Formerly of the Aviation Planning Division)

  9. It was always a secret thrill for me to be seated next to Bill at any event. I never left without learning something new, or without being entertained. He just made so much sense. Rest in peace, Bill.

    “Grab your ticket and your suitcase
    Thunder’s rolling down the tracks
    You don’t know where you’re goin’
    But you know you won’t be back
    Darlin’ if you’re weary
    Lay your head upon my chest
    We’ll take what we can carry
    And we’ll leave the rest”
    — Land of Hope and Dreams
    Bruce Springsteen

  10. Bill was a true friend, a genuinely good person and an effective executive.

    I admired how he was able to simplify complex issues. Bill was a pragmatic thinker who always found practical solutions to problems. This was a great gift, considering that he had the 24/7 responsibility of making decisions for three of the world’s largest airports (plus a smaller one) in his position as Director of Aviation for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

    Yet he always had time for a joke or for helping others: colleagues, business associates, and community-based organizations like the Boy Scouts of America. It was Bill who inspired me and Hudson to be more involved in Scouting. He was a little bit like Tom Sawyer in the way he made whatever he happened to be doing fun, and made you want to do it too. Indeed, he was a person who habitually brought out the best in others. Because he admired achievement and knew how to say thank you, you wanted to do a great job for him, so you could get that great feeling when he recognized your efforts.

    Bill lived for the Port Authority, aviation and even more so for the customers they serve. Customer always came first in Bill’s decisions. They were the focus of everything that was done in Port facilities under his leadership.

    I knew Bill for more than 10 years, and considered him the wittiest, most pleasant companion and the ablest executive I have ever met. You could not not like Bill. He will be missed, but never forgotten.

  11. “You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.”
    ~Evan Esar American Humorist (1899 – 1995)

    Bill Decota was a very special human being who is missed very much by all who knew him. He touched many lives, including mine, and I am thankful to have known him and will treasure what I have learned from him.

  12. I met Bill once. 35 years ago, and I still remember him. We sat on Jury Duty together in Monmouth County. He sat next to me in deliberation. When our jurors were having a difficult time, he handed me a note that read: “How little do they see what really is, who frame their hasty judgements on that which seems.” I always remember that note. Carried in my wallet for years. I did see him a few times on the train to NYC years and years ago… I’m so sorry for his passing…

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