Now you should know something about Gail Robortaccio right off: She is a very pleasant, down to earth and unpretentious person.
I was warmly welcomed into her home to interview her. That welcome even extended to her dog Max who greeted me enthusiastically and who wanted to sit in on the interview at Gail's dining room table.
Unfortunately, Max's enthusiasm went on a bit too long and off he went to be with Gail's husband Mario.
As was everyone I had the opportunity and pleasure to interview for this column so far, Gail was not born in Roxbury. She was born in Weehawken in 1948 and hails from Jersey City where she was raised.
Gail is a graduate of Saint Peter's College in Jersey City where she majored in business. After completing her education she went to work on Wall Street in New York City in the banking industry as a personal loan counselor.
Gail and Mario, like many of us, found their way to Roxbury while looking for a place to settle down and raise their family. When Gail was pregnant with their first child in 1978, they started looking for a home to the west of Jersey City. As I think is true now as it was back then, the farther west one looked, the more affordable the homes were, which is how the Robortaccio's found their home i Landing where they still reside today.
The home they purchased was built by Manual Selengut, a builder who constructed a good majority of the homes in the Landing section of Roxbury, adjacent to Lake Hopatcong after World War II.
Gail and Mario would have two sons, Michael and Joseph, while living in Roxbury. The boys would attend the Roxbury school system from kindergarten through their High School graduations.
They would also avail themselves of many of the sporting and social activities that Roxbury provides to our children as they grew up, with Gail and Mario in attendance and helping out. Today, Gail has two granddaughters living in the area and she is already enjoying the swim classes, recitals and attending the activities of her granddaughters.
Gail is a congregant of Saint Therese Church in Roxbury and taught in the religious program (CCD) at the church for many years while her sons were growing up.
Early on in her residency in Roxbury, Gail became involved in several community activities. Her participation and enthusiasm in those activities did not go unnoticed, and she came to the attention of Ed Kutsco in 1985 who was involved with the Roxbury Board of Education.
Ed asked Gail to consider running for the school board and so she did.
To Gail's pleasant surprise she won and took her place on the board.
As Gail explained it to me, things worked a bit different back then on the board. Today when teacher contracts are negotiated attorneys who specialize in those types of matters do the negotiation. Back then negotiations were conducted by the members of the Board of Education directly with the teacher representatives which, though necessary, was very time consuming.
After her time on the school board, Gail was asked to be a member of the Roxbury Zoning Board of Adjustment where she would serve as a member and chairperson for more than 17 years, and where she still serves today.
I asked Gail about the services that a Board of Adjustment provides and the duties of a board member. She told me that there are two boards in the township that deal with building, zoning, construction, and development: The planning board, which basically deals with new construction and all that entails, and the Board of Adjustment, which deals with variances that people seek from the requirements of local ordinances.
When Gail first went on the board as a member, she was greatly helped by Scott Meyer, then on the board, in getting started and learning the ropes.
A board member has to review each application presented to the board, which Gail tells me includes not only reading the application, but often a trip to the site to really appreciate what the applicant is seeking and to get a full understanding of it.
Each application is of course different and since the person coming before the board is seeking a variance from township ordinances. The number and types of variances sought are many, so flexibility in considering the matters is part of the process.
The Board of Adjustment meets once per month, but when the number of applications become too numerous, or if an application is exceedingly complex, the board will hold special meetings to handle the situation.
Simply stated I think, membership on the board is time consuming and requires dedication and attention to detail.
Gail's expertise has grown so much that she has held the chair for many years off and on, running meetings and providing guidance to the proceedings.
She also told me she tries to follow Scott's mentoring by helping new members to the board to initially find their way.
Outside of the Board of Adjustment, Gail has been involved in many other community activities over the years.
She has been a library volunteer at the Lincoln Roosevelt School. She and Mario have helped for many years to run the annual MS Walk here in Roxbury to aid those affected with Multiple Sclerosis.
Gail was also a very active member of the Planning Committee for Roxbury's 250th anniversary celebration. This was a series of events and fundraisers that included parades, dinners, selling items of historical memorabilia and a township wide party at Horseshoe Lake ending with a really fine fireworks display.
The only thing that went wrong, which left Gail heartbroken, was when the 'Flying Elvis' was unable to parachute in at the Horseshoe Lake festivities due to overcast skies and high winds!
Gail’s community activities go beyond teaching at her church, membership on the Board of Education and membership on the Board of Adjustment.
She was asked to be one of the founding trustees of the Roxbury Day Care Center. Her involvement started at the very beginning with the securing of a land lease from the township and the construction of the Day Care Center building on Righter Road.
She served as the secretary of the board of trustees from when the center opened until 2012. Her involvement with the trustees included not only the construction of the center and its subsequent maintenance, but also working with the director on the center’s operation and its direction and service offerings to the Roxbury community and to those in need.
She also has kept a hand in politics, as she has been a Republican Committeewoman from her district for many years.
Gail's activities have been recognized over the years. On Oct. 17, 1997, the James E. Sprow Memorial Foundation (named after a former mayor of roxbury) presented its Distinguished Service Award to her "for significant contributions of time and talent, whenever and wherever the need arises."
More recently Gail received several awards at an event held on May 23 to honor her. From what I now believe to be typical of Gail, her husband and family had to conceal from her what the event was truly about to get her to the dinner.
The Roxbury Republican Club presented Gail with a Friend of Roxbury Award "for her years of support and dedicated services to our community." At the same event, the Morris County freeholders presented a resolution signed by all the freeholders - and awarded by Morris County Freeholder Director Kathryn DeFillippo of Roxbury - that recited a list of Gail's community activities and thanking her for "her second-to-none efforts to make this a great place to live and work and raise a family."
Further, Gail was the presented that evening with several recognition awards from the New Jersey State Senate and the New Jersey State Assembly for her community efforts.
Recently, the Roxbury Mayor and Council held an event to honor all of those who presently volunteer in Roxbury to thank them for their time and effort and to award Certificates of Appreciation.
In addition to her Certificate of Appreciation, Gail was presented with the Roxbury Volunteer of the Year 2016 award by the Mayor and Council.
Gail, in her modest way, told me she "accepted that award for everyone in the room, for without what everyone in the room did, Roxbury would not be what it is today." Nice and very true words.
When I asked Gail which activity or service she was most proud of, she smiled broadly and replied "everything." She genuinely enjoyed and still enjoys helping people and giving back to her community.
She basically summed it up for me when she said, "If you help people, you inspire more people to help others as well."
Thanks Gail for the opportunity to meet with you and for your time. And best wishes and happiness to you and Mario on your recent 40th wedding anniversary!