2008-03-06 / Front Page

Pete Gaynor is the new man at the top of capital city agency

By Sam Bari

Pete Gaynor, right, takes on his new job as the Providence Emergency Management Director with the support of his wife Sue, left, and daughter Grace. Photo by Adrienne Downing Pete Gaynor, right, takes on his new job as the Providence Emergency Management Director with the support of his wife Sue, left, and daughter Grace. Photo by Adrienne Downing When all appears to be lost, and the odds of survival are slim, it is time to call in the Marines. And that's exactly what Mayor David N. Cicilline of Providence did when he needed a new emergency management director for his beleaguered city.

Jamestown resident Peter T. Gaynor, a highly decorated Marine Corps Colonel, who retired from active duty last October after 26 years of service, accepted the post and took immediate command of the Providence agency.

Gaynor, 49, succeeds Leo Messier, who was fired by Mayor Cicilline in December because he felt Messier was at least partly responsible for the poor response to a Dec. 13 snowstorm that left the city paralyzed for hours.

The retired colonel is well qualified for the job after overseeing Marine emergency operations at the Pentagon during Sept. 11, and running President Bush's Camp David security team as well as commanding more than 30,000 troops while on duty in Iraq.

After accepting the position, Gaynor outlined a three-part plan for improving emergency management in Providence. He said he will establish and strengthen relationships with organizations, residents and leaders who are essential to the success of any emergency response effort. He also plans on designing and conducting hurricane response exercises no later than June, and developing a community outreach program to recruit and train volunteers for emergency operations. Additionally, he plans to establish disaster shelters throughout the city and launch a public affairs campaign to heighten awareness, as well as educate and inform the public about what to do in emergency situations.

Gaynor claims to be a "nutsand bolts, results-oriented kind of guy" who likes challenges and enjoys solving problems. He believes that his perspective on crisis management, and his fine-tunedby real-life-experiences leadership skills, will bring a fresh approach to the city's overall emergency management planning process. "Making the right decisions during times of crisis is a lot easier when a well thought out plan is in place," Gaynor said.

When introducing Gaynor at a news conference, Mayor Cicilline said, "Colonel Gaynor has demonstrated throughout his career the ability to plan large and complicated logistical operations while ensuring excellent flow of communications, even in times of crisis." He added, "This is someone who hasn't just planned for a largescale crisis situation, he's actually experienced them and proven himself to be ready and capable."

A cousin of Gaynor's, who is in the Providence Fire Department, introduced him to Fire Chief George S. Farrell not long before Messier was fired. They knew Gaynor was retired and wellqualified for the position, so Farrell asked him to submit a resume to the mayor. Cicilline liked what he saw, and immediately offered Gaynor the job.

Gaynor is known for his incredible courage and willingness to stand up for what he believes to be honorable and right. He once wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette called "Where have all the colonels gone." The article chronicles his disillusionment with the politics of self-preservation that has its cold fingers wrapped around the senior officers of today's politically-correct military.

He wrote, "Somewhere between command and assignment to Headquarters Marine Corps, the majority of Marine colonels seemed to have lost their way. For some seemingly unknown reason these colonels appear to wallow in indecisiveness, foot dragging and, in some cases, incompetence."

He continued, "They have become an obstacle where once they were standard bearers." He did, however, acknowledge those who are picking up the slack and noted that he had the "distinct pleasure to work for one. Someone unafraid to lead his Marines, to make a decision without general officer advice, who stood up for what he believed right and (as has been my own fortunate experience) took care of his Marines."

Although the controversial article raised a few eyebrows, Gaynor's courage was recognized and his candor was well received for speaking out about how modern politics had diluted the abilities of the highest-ranking officers to carry out their duties in the true tradition of the Corps.

"I wasn't sure what I was going to do after retirement," Gaynor said. "It was a family decision, and I'm glad I did it. I always liked to work with my hands, and I was considering building a business making military art and artifacts. Something I might still do in my spare time. I wasn't really worried about getting a job if I needed one. When this opportunity presented itself, I took it."

Gaynor said that he and his family will continue to live in Jamestown. "The commute isn't that bad and we moved 15 times during my military career. I think we want to stay in the same place for a while," he said.

The "same place" is the house where his wife Sue, formerly Sue O'Neil, grew up. "And my mother, Mary, grew up here before me," Sue said. The Gaynors now live in the house on Southwest Avenue with their daughter Grace, 9, and cat, Fluffy.

"I like being at home with the family," Gaynor said. "Although I don't regret my time in Iraq or any of the other times that duty has taken me out of the country; being away is hard on any family. I like knowing that I can attend my daughter's basketball games and participate in family affairs with my wife," he said.

Gaynor enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1977 after graduating from Pilgrim High School in Warwick, where he was born. At the end of his enlistment, he spent his GI bill on a college education and graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in history. He then returned to the Marine Corps as an officer and continued his distinguished career for 22 years before retiring.

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