Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jane Garvey, Lifetime Achievement Award in Transportation, and O.R.

Jane Garvey, whose husband is our county sheriff, complete with the proper hat and uniform, will be honored next Tuesday at the Transportation Research Board Meeting in Washington DC
(at which about 10,000 transportation professionals are expected) with the Frank Turner Medal for Lifetime Achievements in Transportation. Turner was the architect of the federal highway system.

Garvey, who began her career as a junior high teacher in South Hadley, having majored in English, and after a receipt of a Master's from Mount Holyoke, became involved in local political campaigns. She then became head of the State Department of Public Works (DPW) (now called the Department of Transportation) and, although not an engineer, gained the confidence of the employees. According to the Amherst Bulletin, Garvey is quoted as saying: I think one of the lessons I learned from [former state Secretary of Transportation] Frederick Salvucci is that when you come to an organization ... you spend a lot of time listening to employees. You identify a couple of things where you can really go to bat for them.

After being Commissioner of the DPW, she became the head of Logan Airport for two years. She then became the first female Director of the FAA, where she served from 1997-2002. During her tenure there, she handled two major events, the new millennium and the Y2K scare, plus the terrorist attacks of 2001. It was Garvey's task to help land 4,923 planes that were in the air over the United States after the attacks. According to the Amherst Bulletin, Garvey said: When I look back at it, I am always grateful and extremely impressed that the air traffic controllers were able to safely bring down all those planes that day. To stand in the office before the screen with the light that shows every flight, then watching the lights going off as the planes landed safely -- sometimes 1, 2, 3 at a time -- it was extraordinary.

Garvey is now Chairwoman of the Paris-based Meridien Infrastructure's North American operation.

I will be at TRB and will be speaking on an invited panel that day so I hope to personally congratulate Garvey on this truly deserved distinction, which is being given by 16 state and federal transportation agencies as well as industry associations.

I met Jane Garvey and her husband at a dinner party on Blue Hills Road in Amherst hosted by their neighbors, Professor Joe Balintfy and his lovely wife, Lily Lancaster, a few years after I joined the faculty at UMass Amherst. It was a poolside party. The Garveys have since moved from Amherst to Northampton (where the county jail is located). Professor Balintfy was one of my senior colleagues and his wife, who was completing her PhD in Management Science, was and is an amazing gourmet cook.

At their dinner parties (I especially remember an incredible Valentine's Day dinner party) we would not only be the recipients of a delicious meal, but also have our calorie consumption and nutritional intake analyzed by Professor Balintfy's software. He was an expert on the diet problem, well-known to operations researchers and management scientists, and had developed elegant extensions that were sold to schools, hospitals, and even jails. I recall him telling us a wonderful story of how he had tried to sell his menu planning software to a jail in New Jersey but the warden there wanted to "minimize the prisoners' utility" rather than maximize their happiness and if they disliked grapefruit that is what he would serve them regularly.

Congrats to Jane Garvey on her much-deserved recognition for contributions to leadership in multimodal transportation! It is amazing the people that one gets to meet in Amherst.