In a patch of woods not far from the BWI Rail Station in Hanover, a scenic overlook stands high up in the trees.
Turtles, deer and other wildlife typically roam below the elevated wooden platform. On the walkway that leads there, transit riders and employees from nearby office buildings – including the Maryland Department of Transportation headquarters – often walk, talk and take in the scenery.
These natural surroundings were ideal for the late Fred Rappe, an MDOT employee of 30-plus years, who enjoyed strolling along the walkway to gather his thoughts or chat with coworkers.
On a warm afternoon in early September, transportation leaders from the past and present gathered to dedicate the overlook to Rappe, who died in 2020. Rappe’s Overlook is the newest addition to the O. James Lighthizer Trail, an elevated wooden walkway that winds through this stretch of woods and crosses Stoney Run.
Transportation leaders were joined by Rappe’s family and friends for the dedication. Many wore Hawaiian shirts, another tribute to Rappe, who often wore them to the office on “casual” Fridays.
“I think the fact that we have all these people out here today really shows the impact that Fred had on not only this department, but everyone that he came in contact with,” said MDOT Secretary Greg Slater.
Rappe worked at MDOT from 1985-2005, and again from 2007-2012. Among his duties, he served as Planning Director, Chief Finance Officer and Special Assistant to the Secretary.
As trains passed nearby and planes flew overhead, former MDOT employee and current Howard County Office of Transportation Administrator Bruce Gartner led several speakers through memories of Rappe – some eliciting laughs, others causing tears.
“He was just such a friend and at the same time a boss and at the same time a mentor; all those things,” Gartner said. “We gathered here today to honor that and respect that.”
Donna Rappe, Fred’s wife, was thankful for the efforts of Gartner and others in advocating for the overlook dedication. Donna is a retired MDOT employee.
“Just coming back here is so reminiscent of our time here; we enjoyed it so much,” Donna said. “On the pedestrian bridge, Fred spent a lot of time here in his private moments. Whatever he was pondering, whatever was on his mind – whether he had a problem or a discussion with someone he worked with – he would be here.”
Fred Rappe was remembered as a man who offered insights and advice at work and outside of the office. His managerial talents and “people skills” were always in balance, Donna said. He often helped his colleagues figure out the answers to problems, without giving them the answers himself.
“He excelled in his chosen fields, in finance and planning, but you know what? I believe his true calling was being a teacher or a guidance counselor or (in) personal development or just plain old psychology, because he could get into your head more than anybody else,” Donna said to a round of applause. “I’m sure his kids know that too.”
Others remembered Rappe for his calm and collected demeanor. He also had a dry sense of wit.
They also talked about his expertise at MDOT, including his time working on the “gas tax,” the Consolidated Transportation Program and other items.
“What a fantastic professional, but what a great human being that we all got to know,” said Paul Wiedefeld, General Manager/CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and a former MDOT official.
Jack Cahalan, Manager of Special Projects for the Maryland Aviation Administration’s Division of Business Development and Management, recalled Rappe often thinking ahead to try to figure out “where the problems were before they became problems,” and then trying to fix those issues.
“I’ve been lucky enough in all my years being associated with MDOT to literally come into work every day and stand on the shoulders of giants, and Fred Rappe was one of those giants,” Cahalan said. “I’m forever grateful … and I couldn’t think of a better way to honor him on a bright sunny day than to take a walk on the bridge.”
For Hope Ripkin, the event was important to honor her former mentor.
“Fred was mentor or therapist, it’s really hard to choose,” Ripkin said. “But the one thing you could always count on is when you needed him, he was there.”