Water and the Woods
On his 50th birthday last year, James A. Romito and his fiancée, Mary Pat Brew Sturdy, had just opened a bottle of wine when his beeper went off: an attempted hijacking at Kennedy Airport. Mr. Romito, the chief of the Port Authority Police Department, answered the call, returning home only at 7 the next morning.
It was typical of the way his sense of duty and public service had structured his life, Ms. Sturdy said. "He would be in the midst of everything," she said. In 30 years with the Port Authority, he had handled crises, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and quieter challenges, like how to humanely deal with the homeless at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
Outside of work, he wanted to be just a regular person. He had Mary Pat and her son, Bobby; he had his daughter, Ellen. Ms. Sturdy said most of the people at their favorite bar, Poor Henry's, did not even know what he did.
He loved the water and the woods. There were times when the beeper would go off, and it would be something he could handle from home. The screened-in back porch would become a command center, and there he and Mary Pat would sit ‹ dealing with the crisis, and looking at the woods.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on October 16, 2001.
James Romito, 51, committed to public service
Port Authority Police Chief James Romito could have stayed at headquarters when he heard the news that a plane crashed into Tower One of the World Trade Center. But that was not Mr. Romito's way.
In his last cell phone conversation with his fiancée, Mary Pat Brew Sturdy, on the morning of the Sept. 11 attack, Mr. Romito told her, "I have to save people," and then ran toward the screams.
The 51-year-old Montville resident might have accomplished his mission, because witnesses told Brew Sturdy they saw him on the 31st floor guiding people to the exits and toward safety.
"He would do anything for anyone," Brew Sturdy said. "That was his nature. He was the warmest, most generous, caring, loving person."
He has rushed to people's aid many times in his 30-year career with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
He was among the rescuers at the World Trade Center in 1993, when a terrorist exploded a bomb in the basement garage.
He was at Kennedy Airport following the crash of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island in 1996.
He was both tough and tender, Brew Sturdy said.
His tender side was evident from his work with the homeless. The Port Authority lauded him for developing Operation Alternative -- a program that connects homeless people who frequent agency bus terminals to shelters and social workers.
He helped runaways and received praise from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for his efforts.
Brew Sturdy said Mr. Romito got numerous awards and medals for his commitment to public service.
Mr. Romito was also in charge of a community policing plan at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Port Newark and Elizabeth Port Marine Terminals. He belonged to various organizations including the International Association of Police Chiefs, the International Port and Harbor Association, the American Association of Airport Executives, the American Association of Port Authorities and the National Cargo Security Council.
The 1978 graduate of Adelphi University also taught in the master's degree law enforcement program at Seton Hall University.
With an eye toward retirement, Mr. Romito started a new consulting company with his fiancée last year.
In addition to Brew Sturdy and her son Bobby, he is survived by his daughter Ellen of Washington Township, Bergen County; parents Anthony and Rina of Bronx, N.Y., a sister, Laura Fasullo of Pearl River, N.Y. and a brother, Anthony of Monroe, N.Y.
Profile by Judith Lucas published in THE STAR-LEDGER.