MAPLEWOOD, N.J. (AP) -- Ernesto Butcher, a veteran of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who was praised for his calm leadership in the days and weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks destroyed the World Trade Center, has died at age 69.
Butcher, who worked for the Port Authority for 41 years, suffered a heart attack while walking near his Maplewood home and died Thursday, the agency said.
Butcher retired in 2012 as chief operating officer of the Port Authority, which runs the states' bridges, tunnels, airports and other transit hubs and owns the lower Manhattan World Trade Center site. He'd held the title since 2000. Before that he had held numerous positions including manager of the George Washington Bridge and the Port Authority Bus Terminal and director of tunnels, bridges and terminals. He began as a management trainee in 1971.
The Port Authority's director of port commerce, Rick Larrabee, worked under Butcher beginning in 2000 and recalled how they made it down to the street from the agency's offices high up in the World Trade Center's North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001.
They had retreated to the lobby of an adjacent hotel to strategize when the South Tower fell, covering them in rubble. Larrabee was standing next to Butcher but lost sight of him in the chaos and didn't see him again until sometime later.
Among the more than 80 Port Authority employees killed in the terror attacks was executive director Neil Levin. Butcher ably helped to fill the void, Larrabee said.
"He was the guy who kind of got us all organized," Larrabee said. "His initial reaction was to try and find all the people who worked for the agency but also to get the agency back up and running as soon as possible. He was the guy who really held us all together in that first week or so."
In an email sent to employees on Friday, Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye noted that Butcher was recognized for his achievements by New Jersey's Assembly in 2003. At that ceremony, former Port Authority chairman Jack Sinagra praised Butcher's "courage and quiet strength" and called him "one of the unsung heroes of our region's darkest hour."