It was Friday, February 1, 1985, when Barbara Sarff Kelleher first walked into work and assumed the duties as the Public Information Officer for District Four at the Florida Department of Transportation. Her first day, like those to follow, would begin with a challenge and lead to many personally, and professionally rewarding experiences over the next 35 years.
“I walked into the District Engineer’s (the District Secretary at that time) Office at five minutes to 8:00 and was handed a phone message to call Central Office PIO. They wanted me to call our maintenance yard in Naples for a status report on the wildfire that had SR 84/Alligator Alley closed. First, I had to ask who to call at the Naples yard, what phone number to call, what is a SunCom number, how do I dial that and what phone can I use, as I didn’t have an office yet,” said Kelleher.
As a PIO, Kelleher was responsible for answering questions from the public, news media, and elected officials about state infrastructure planning, construction and maintenance in District Four. Kelleher quickly gained the admiration of her colleagues and the public she honorably served. She was a keeper, and the Department kept her as long as mandatory retirement rules allow.
“The most memorable projects I worked on were: completing the original construction of I-595; completing the missing link of I-95 between Palm Beach Gardens and Fort Pierce (the last segment in the country); completing the last segments of I-75 across Alligator Alley, and; replacing 13 bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway (ICCW), to include the Big John Monahan Bridge over the Okeechobee Waterway,” said Kelleher.
The FDOT story is the story of professionals like Kelleher who dedicate their lives to the public good. Professionals who grow with the community and the Department through the years.
“When I started, District Four covered seven counties and the Turnpike. I had a correcting IBM electric typewriter. I typed every news release, duplicated it in the Copy Room and mailed copies to the media,” said Kelleher. During her tenure, Kelleher also witnessed the transition in technology from brick phones to smartphones and the advent of the Internet and email.
Asked about other big improvements in FDOT during her time, Kelleher said:
“Creation of the Regional Traffic Management Center; installation of ITS; more emphasis on training and career paths to retain good employees; the Certified Public Management Course; Supervisory, Management and Leadership Academies; the use of business plans; outsourcing work to consultants; the use of an agency website and project-specific websites to increase exposure to the general public, and the use of social media (yay!).”
Now, as she steps into retirement, Kelleher will be spending more time with family and traveling. Kelleher and her husband Zane Kelleher recently purchased a travel trailer and will be making good use of the roads and bridges that she played such an integral part in providing. When asked what she will miss most, Kelleher said: “All the FDOT family.”