In a way, NJ Transit will never be the same again. The agency’s last original employee, who was there even before it was founded in 1979, has retired. She was Joyce J. Zuczek, and she had become a favorite employee of a number of active Coalition members.
Joyce had 45 years’ service with “Transit” and, before it was founded, with the now-defunct Commuter Operating Agency in the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDoT). She was one of the original NJT employees, the list of whom reads like a roster of future industry leaders. One was Sen. Francis X. Herbert, who sponsored the Transportation Act of 1979, NJ Transit’s enabling legislation. In later years, Herbert was given the title “Father of NJ Transit”. Joyce later talked about typing Herbert’s original draft of the bill.
There was also Louis J. Gambaccini, the dynamic Transportation commissioner who got NJT started. Other “charter members” included Arthur S. Guzzetti, vice-president for policy and mobility at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA); George D. Warrington, who was head of Amtrak and later of NJT; and Martin E. Robins, the original incorporator of NJT Rail Operations, Inc., in 1983. There were more who came later: Planner Jim Greller; engineer Stan Feinsod; Shirley DeLibero, who was NJT’s executive director in the 1990s and became known as the “First Lady of American Transit”; and Raymond P. Kenny, the 50-year railroad man who was taken from us by the COVID-19 virus shortly after it struck. There were others, too. I knew them all, and Joyce worked with all of them.
I first got to know Joyce when she was coordinator for requests under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). I asked her for a list of every dissenting vote ever cast by a member of the NJ Transit Board. The list was pitifully small, and there had been no such votes since 2003. It would be late in 2014 before there would be another, and there have been very few since then. Still, Joyce later told me that it was one of the most interesting requests she had ever filled.
Joyce soldiered on as “acting” board secretary for several years, before she was finally liberated and promoted to the job in a “permanent” capacity. That was the position she held when she retired at the end of February. When she was promoted, several Coalition members and other advocates led the rest of the audience in giving her a standing ovation. I had never witnessed a similar event during the two decades when I attended and commented at many Board meetings in my former capacity as Coalition chair. That was the level of respect and endearment that we all had for Joyce.
New Jersey Transit will continue, but it won’t be the same. Until now, there was somebody at the agency who had bridged the time before it existed to the present. With Joyce’s departure, that is no longer true. Most of the time, it is the leaders of the “army” of employees who keep the railroad (and the bus company, too, in the case of NJ Transit) going who are honored as they step down from their careers. Joyce Zuczek was a loyal member of that “army”: someone who treated everybody, from the powerful agency heads and elected officials, to the “ordinary” riders, with equal dignity and respect. We will all miss her calming influence. For that, if nothing else, she deserves to be remembered.
For a more-detailed tribute to Joyce, see the author’s article on the Railway Age website. Go to www.railwayage.com, and search for Joyce Zuczek or the article’s title, End of an Era at NJ Transit.