Remembering ‘Papa Joe’ Fiordaliso

Distinguished Service award at NJUA convention brings another opportunity to remember legendary BPU leader

As he took on the unenviable task of cleaning out his father’s office, Joe Fiordaliso Jr. found so many items that he expected: Such as a list of birthdays of all the employees at the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, where his dad, Joe Fiordaliso, was the longest-serving employee.

“Its corners worn, its print faded, with handwritten notes and edits throughout,” Joe Fiordaliso Jr. said. “He kept this front and center on his desk and sent everyone at BPU a personal note with best wishes for a great day and in the year ahead.”

Then, he found the true impact that his dad, affectionately known as “Papa Joe,” had on the state and its residents.

“I opened the door of his desk to discover the correspondence he had saved,” Fiordaliso Jr. said. “The handwritten letter from the old woman from East Orange with the shaky penmanship, thanking him personally for the utility-assistance grant she received to keep the heat on. The letter from the middle school boy from Edison, who learned about offshore wind in science class and wrote to dad, thanking him for the important work he was doing.”

Fiordaliso Jr. made his remarks Wednesday, the first day of the New Jersey Utilities Association convention in Long Branch, while accepting the NJUA 2023 Distinguished Service award, along with his mother, in front of hundreds of industry leaders who held his father in such high regard.

Fiordaliso Jr. said that love was returned to each and every one of them. His father cherished people more than anything.

“These interactions not only motivated him, they fueled the passion to leave our planet in a better condition than he found it,” he said. “The people he knew he’d be helping in the process kept him going. Papa Joe worked literally to the day he died to deliver a clean and healthy planet to his grandchildren.”

The gratitude was expressed by many.

Rich Henning, the CEO of the NJUA, said he remembered Fiordaliso for the impact he had during his 18 years at the BPU and beyond.

“His infectious smile, his ability to make people feel very comfortable under the most difficult situations and his wit and wisdom,” Henning said. “Joe was the eternal optimist. He always believed that solutions to complex problems could be found when people listened and worked together.

“His leadership during COVID was second to none. And I think all of us on his phone calls really understood what leadership was all about. He took us through what was truly difficult situation.”

His mentorship also was second to none, said his successor as BPU president, Christine Guhl-Savody, who previously served as Fiordaliso’s chief of staff.

“Not a day goes by where something happens, where I don’t think that I wish Joe were here to get advice or guidance from — or get reassurance,” she said. “But, really, just to have a laugh.”

For Fiordaliso Jr. and his mother, Marilyn Fiordaliso, the event was another in a long list of honors for Papa Joe — events that always bring a smile to their faces and a tear to their eyes.

Fiordaliso Jr. said seeing old friends was reassuring and comforting.

“Because he was as much a part of the BPU family as he was the Fiordaliso family, it’s always touching to see you guys and to be with you,” he said.

“We think a fitting way to remember him would be to lean into our work, as he did. Cherish interactions with people, as he did. Approach challenges with a sense of calm, a good sense of humor and the optimism to know that a solution is within grasp, as he did.”

Moments such as these are special, Fiordaliso Jr. said.

“We’re reminded of the many people he touched — and that he was not just Papa Joe to us, he was Papa Joe to all of you,” he said.