The tight-knit community of Rhode Island wastewater operators was devastated to learn that we lost Carmine Goneconte on October 28th. His death at age 60 is difficult to come to terms with and we may never know the reason why he was taken from us so young.
In our public profession, we don’t talk about our faith but I’m guessing it’s a big reason why many of us do what we do. After reading his obituary, I now know that faith was something that defined Carmine. In addition to his faith in God, Carmine demonstrated a more secular faith that we are probably more comfortable talking about: faith in his vocation, faith in his professional actions and decisions, and faith in his team at the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC). Over the course of his career at NBC, Carmine undeniably changed the culture from one where mediocrity was the measure to one where excellence is the norm. His faith surely made him strong and resilient in the face of defeats; patient and persistent when faced with roadblocks. He was a champion for clean water and a teacher, mentor, and coach to those of us who work for it.
Interestingly, I met Carmine many years before I joined the wastewater profession. I started my career as an air pollution inspector/enforcer for EPA during the time when Carmine had the difficult duty of keeping the old sewage sludge incinerator at Field’s Point in compliance with the regulations. And, unfortunately for him, I drove by it every day on my way to work. Being a regulator, I could have easily adopted a cynical view of the regulated community and their compliance intentions. I did find a few who warranted my skepticism. But Carmine bolstered my faith that people would do the right thing if they knew what they were supposed to do and were supported in their efforts. Maybe it was his wastewater training but sometimes I would get to work in Boston and there would be a message waiting for me from Carmine letting me know he was having a bad incinerator day and what he was doing to turn it around. Carmine always did what he said he was going to do; he was a man of integrity.
Carmine’s contributions of late to the Narragansett Water Pollution Control Association (NWPCA) and previously to the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA) warrant mention. He was inducted into the Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers (5S) back in 1989! Along the way, he held many leadership positions – including Rhode Island State Director. As an operator, he won numerous awards such as Operator of the Year, the Peloquin Award, and the William D. Hatfield Award. In 2006, Carmine joined the Quarter Century Operators Club. However, I suspect he was most proud of all the awards bestowed on NBC and his staff to which he was devoted and dedicated.
I never asked Carmine how he came to be in the “business” but I bet chance played a big part in it, like it did for a lot of us. I really don’t believe in coincidence; I have faith that things happen for a reason even if that reason is not obvious at the time. However it came about for Carmine, his decision to become a wastewater operator nearly 40 years ago had a profound impact on the water environment in Rhode Island and water professionals throughout New England. He towered over all of us – literally and figuratively – and was someone we deeply admired.
Rest in peace Rhode Island Wastewater Operator #131. I hope you knew the tremendous contributions you have made to our profession. We cannot make sense of your death but we find great purpose in the life you lived. Please watch over us and continue to guide us as we attempt to follow in your giant footsteps.
Rhode Island Wastewater Operator #988
NOTE: The NWPCA Executive Committee is looking for ideas to memorialize Carmine’s importance to the organization. Perhaps an award or a scholarship in his name. If you have any thoughts, please email Scott Goodinson at Scott.C.Goodinson@warwickri.com.
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