The building workers union gives an annual award to honor longevity, and this year's recipient, George Bell, was tracked down in Georgia in the middle of a barbecue so that he could share some of the wisdom and tenacity that led him to this place.
George Bell, 60, grew up in the south, and you can still hear the soft echoes in his cadence and parlance as he drawls through the ether from Georgia to New York.
"I grew up in Newbury, North Carolina, but I came to New York City when I was 21 years old because all my brothers and sisters were there already," he said in a telephone interview. "I had spent summers in the city and liked it, so I came up and got a job in Miller Meat Packing in Brooklyn, on Myrtle Avenue. I worked there for about a year, and then I worked for a cabinetmaker all while I was living in Bedford-Stuyvesant. I started at Dunn and Bradstreet, that is Moody's, in 1974. They were on 99 Church Street at the time. We moved buildings, we are now at 250 Greenwich Street [7 World Trade Center], but I am still with them."
Maintenance, it turns out, is a wide-ranging occupation. Bell sets up conferences and does light construction as well as keeping things clean and, above all, safe. When asked if he was an organized child, Bell lets out a wonderful low rumbling laugh and says, "Well, my mother isn't around now so she can't say anything other, so yes, I will say I was neat and tidy as a child. I guess I do like order."
Bell has a 23-year-old son named Connis, which is Bell's middle name. Connis lives with his mother, but Bell has many cousins with whom he visits. In fact, he was taking his annual summer trip with the cousins when we caught up with him in between banana pudding, ribs, cornbread, sweet corn, grilled shrimp and chicken.
Back up north, Bell recalls the days at Moody's in both 1993 and 2001 when the World Trade Center was attacked. On both occasions he was working and saw a lot, although he doesn't say much about it other than the fact that the maintenance workers were called back first, a week after 9/11 "to make order and clean up."
Bell loves to take photographs and through the years he has taken some pictures of conferences that Moody's has used, but his favorite place for photography is the roof of 7 WTC. "I love to go up and look down and see the city from that high up. The pictures can be beautiful." Bell works long hours, usually arriving between 6:30 and 7 a.m. for the 8 a.m. shift. " I like to get to work early, although there have been many different companies handling maintenance in this building, I always say I work for Moody's and I think folks know I can be relied upon. During my shifts I have seen so many things: babies born, robberies, people sick, big conferences and of course the two attacks, but I have always been reliable. I guess people see that. I think I am good in a crisis."
When the transit strike hit the city, Bell walked from Brooklyn to Downtown Manhattan for three days, always arriving early. "I lost weight with all the walking and it was cold. A few days before Christmas, Moody's gives kids parties for the holiday and they had to be set up and broken down and I thought, well, can't let the kids down. When someone asks me for something, 89 percent of the time I can do it."
It seems Bell's employers think he delivers on an even higher percentage.
George Bell began working for Moody's predecessor 37 years ago.
Photo by Andrew Schwartz