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 email@example.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