I started with the Housing Authority in 1970 as a receptionist [the clerk-typist title] at Carey Gardens in Coney Island. My youngest son, Sal, was 7, my daughter, Annette, was 10, and Danny was 16. My oldest son, Charles, was 20. I used to go home during lunch to check on the kids; I lived only six minutes away by car, in the Sheepshead-Nostrand Houses.
I’m fortunate that my neighbors were so good to me. We were like family, and they looked after my children.
Then I went to O’Dwyer Houses, where I continued as a receptionist. I took the civil service exam for superintendent’s secretary [senior clerk title] and in 1975 I went to Riis Houses in the Lower East Side as a superintendent’s secretary.
In 1977 I went back to Brooklyn, to Breukelen Houses. I used to kid around with the fellas on the heating crew. There was a fireman’s exam coming up and my oldest son, Charles, was taking classes. I used to drive him, because they were at night and he didn’t have a car, so I enrolled in the class, too. I studied during my lunch hour, and on Sundays with my son. I did it because it was a promotion—I had four kids and was divorced. (Now I’m married to Sal Giudice; we’ve been married for 25 years.) It wasn’t easy. I prepared supper for my kids in the morning. I worried about them. I passed the exam (one of two women). My son did, too.
That’s when I joined Local 237. Before that I was a member of District Council 37.
I was on the heating crew at Central Maintenance, traveling to different locations. It was dirty work, crawling in holes with rats and roaches. It was hard keeping up with all those young men. The supervisor told the guys they had to treat me with respect, and they did. They were good to me. I always had a partner, wherever I went. They included me when they went to lunch— that’s important when you’re in an area you don’t know.
The worst part of the job was wearing that uniform. I was used to getting dressed for work. I always wore a dress or a suit in the office. Now I had to wear baggy
pants, heavy work shoes, a heavy chain with keys hanging from my pants. No manicures, no jewelry (but my son told me to keep my wedding ring on!). I wore my hair short. Now everyone dresses like that and wears their hair short, but then it was different.
I passed the assistant superintendent exam and in 1981 was promoted to assistant superintendent, at Van Dyke Houses in Brooklyn. It was tough. They never had a woman in charge before. There were a lot of macho men working in maintenance. They accepted me as a superintendent’s secretary, but once I became a supervisor, it was different; I was making more than they were.
I worked at Sheepshead-Nostrand Houses as assistant superintendent, then in the elevator mechanic section in the city, where I was in charge of violations [as Assistant Superintendent of Elevator Violations at Central Maintenance] and did mostly paperwork [submitting reports on the status of violations, non-technical and mandated inspections].
In 1982 I became the first female to be appointed acting superintendent. I worked for three months at Ocean Hill-Saratoga Square. Then I passed the superintendent exam and became the first female superintendent [civil service]. The Sons of Italy, Lodge 2277, honored me as Woman of the Year at their dinner dance. I have a picture of Mario Cuomo giving me a proclamation there, when he was lieutenant governor. They honored me again in 1990, for being the first female superintendent. I was an original member of Non-Traditional Women of Today [founded in 1984], an organization of Housing Authority women in nontraditional jobs. We had women in different jobs—caretakers, one was a foreman. We met once a month for lunch and supported each other. Doris Welch, was there, and Pat Rutledge, and others. They gave me a plaque.
Throughout my career, whenever I heard of an exam coming up, I would prepare. When I was growing up it never occurred to me that I would have these kinds of jobs. I was never a tomboy. When I went after those jobs I was thinking about taking care of my family, about my salary and pension.
It’s never easy for a woman breaking into a man’s world. They resent it, they think you’re taking the man’s job. But I earned that job, I paid my dues.