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Career at Georgia Ports golden for Betty Ann Rappé

  • Betty Ann Rappé is celebrating 50 years with the Georgia Ports Authority this month. (Photo by Emily Goldman/GPA)

When her boss at the Georgia Ports Authority asked Betty Ann DiPietro Rappé if she wanted to transfer to the new container operations building under construction on the river, she said “Thanks, but no thanks.”

“It was 1967 and I was barely 19 years old. I loved where I was and the people I worked with. And I just couldn’t imagine that the concept of shipping cargo in big boxes would ever catch on,” she said, laughing.

She saw the light soon enough.

These days, Rappé is administrative manager of container operations, a division of GPA that includes nearly 500 employees.

And the petite powerhouse, who earlier this month celebrated 50 years at the ports, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I took this job to get experience and then move on,” she said. “I never intended to stay forever. I guess I’m still getting experience because I’ve never had the urge to leave.

She started her career at Georgia Ports in January of 1967, shortly after graduating from St. Vincent’s Academy.

“In those days, most people went through employment agencies,” she said. “I remember being sent to Jones and Hill Insurance Co., the library, the ports and several other businesses to interview.

“But I grew up in Port Wentworth and passed that port every day. I always wanted to know more about what went on there. I really didn’t expect that they would hire me, but I thought ‘what the heck – I’ll give it a shot,’” she said.

Thus began a career spanning a half-century and still going strong.

But it almost didn’t happen.

“I got a call from Jones and Hill offering me a job,” she said. “That same day I got a call from J. Ellis Dowd, who had interviewed me at the ports. I told him I’d really like to work for him, but I had already said yes to the insurance company and had to follow the employment agency’s protocol.

“But Mr. Dowd insisted I needed to work for them. He called the employment agency, paid all my fees and that was that.”

A different world

In 1967, the ports had a distinctly different look, she said.

“The cargo was mostly break-bulk and my job was to type up orders and invoices. The only thing that was automated was my electric typewriter.

“The truckers would come in and one would want 100 rolls of burlap and another would need eight skids of barbed wire, for example. We were much smaller and that’s how things were done.

“I get tickled sometimes when I see our guys driving around the terminal in their nice pick-up trucks,” she said. “I think back to when the main mode of transportation on the docks was a bicycle with a horn and a light.

“You should have seen the excitement when they got their first golf cart.”

While Rappé has seen lots of change at GPA over the last century, the most dramatic has been its growth from a sleepy Southern port to the dynamo that it is today — the fourth busiest and fastest growing container port in the country.

Of course, the catalyst for that growth was the advent of the container.

“They started trickling in sometime around the late 1960s,” she said. By the early 1970s, it was becoming clear they were the wave of the future.”

Still, Rappé stayed on the break-bulk side of the business.

“I moved from typing invoices to being what they called a junior clerk and I was put in charge of the import shipping of cargo at Ocean Terminal.

Processing orders there, she got to interact with brokers, steamship companies and others in the maritime industry.

“It was there that I met people in many facets of the business – some I knew from Benedictine — and began to get a sense of the broader maritime community and how it was growing,” she said.

She spent several years in operations. As the terminals began to divide, she spent time in break-bulk warehousing and then ended up in container operations.

From there, Rappé moved up to a manager position. When her supervisor left, she moved into that position.

Retirement? What’s that?

When word started getting around that Rappé was approaching 50 years, “some of the younger employees would ask what it was like back then,” she said. “They’d ask how many containers we were moving when I started and when I said none, they couldn’t believe it.

“Now it’s kind of an ongoing joke. They’ll see me and say, ‘No containers? Seriously?’

“They still can’t get their heads around that.”

Despite hitting the golden milestone, Rappé says she has no immediate plans to retire.

“Some days, I can come in and do what I planned to do, but no two days are ever alike. It’s never boring.

“The growth at this port has been unprecedented and there are days that can be very demanding, both for our operators and our management. I like to think of our admin wing as their anchor – if they need something, they can count on us.”

Rappé concedes it will be difficult when the time comes to call it a day.

“But as long as I’m productive and able to do my job, I’m happy where I am,” she said.

“I’m very proud to have had a small part in the amazing success of this port.”

Senior business reporter Mary Carr Mayle covers the ports for the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow. She can be reached at 912-652-0324 or at mary.mayle@savannahnow.com.

Following are the ships expected to call on Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City and Ocean terminals this week. Schedules are supplied by GPA and are subject to change.

TERMINAL VESSEL ETA

GCT MAERSK WINNIPEG Today

GCT MAERSK KENSINGTON Today

GCT MSC JOANNA Today

GCT ZIM ONTARIO Today

GCT MAERSK KOTKA Today

GCT ZIM QINGDAO Today

GCT SOFIA EXPRESS Today

GCT APL YANGSHAN Today

OT TONSBERG Today

OT INDUSTRIAL CHIEF Today

GCT MAERSK KURE Saturday

GCT PHILADELPHIA EXPRESS Saturday

GCT KAAN KALKAVAN Saturday

GCT MARGARETE SCHULTE Saturday

GCT ALBERT MAERSK Sunday

GCT BUXCLIFF Sunday

GCT MSC LAURA Sunday

GCT EVER LISSOME Sunday

GCT MOL MAXIM Sunday

GCT SANTA BETTINA Sunday

OT PATRIOT Sunday

GCT MAERSK CHICAGO Monday

GCT MSC ZLATA R Monday

GCT GREEN SKY Monday

GCT MEHUIN Monday

GCT SCT DISTINCTION Monday

GCT MAINE TRADER Monday

GCT CSCL ASIA Tuesday

GCT CMA CGM AMERICA Tuesday

GCT COLOMBO EXPRESS Tuesday

GCT CMA CGM CORAL Tuesday

GCT MSC KOREA Tuesday

GCT YM UTOPIA Tuesday

OT SALOME Tuesday

GCT MSC ROCHELLE Wednesday

GCT ARIAN Wednesday

GCT ZIM CONSTANZA Wednesday

GCT MARY Wednesday

GCT MSC RACHELE Thursday

GCT ZIM PIRAEUS Thursday

GCT OOCL WASHINGTON Thursday

GCT MSC MARINA Thursday

GCT IRENES REMEDY Thursday

OT LUMINOUS HALO Thursday

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