Brooklyn parks chief looks back at 33 years of service
Charles Gili could write a book about all of the adventures he has had in New York City’s parks, according to colleagues who said he has seen it all.
Gili might have time to write that book now that he is planning to retire from his job as the chief of operations for Brooklyn parks at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Gili, who won a Sloan Public Service Award this year, recently announced his retirement. He has been a Parks Dept. employee for 33 years.
He started out as a seasonal Urban Ranger for Brooklyn in 1982, working out of the old Wollman Ice Skating Rink building in Prospect Park. Through hard work and dedication to duty, he steadily earned promotions over the years. He landed the job of chief of operations in 2002.
Over the years, Gili has worked in parks in four of the five boroughs. “I worked mostly in every Brooklyn park, but also spent time in Crotona Park in the South Bronx, Van Cortland and Pelham Bay parks in the North Bronx, Battery Park and Central Park in Manhattan and Flushing Meadows Park in Queens,” he wrote in an email to the Brooklyn Eagle.
He will carry with him many wonderful memories of his days with the Parks Dept., he said.
“In many ways, every day was a real experience,” he wrote. “The job is very diverse and challenging and that’s what makes it so interesting. I think working with such dedicated people will be what I remember most. The public doesn’t see the folks that come in early, work through lunch, stay late, etc., without asking for compensation.”
He called his Parks Dept. co-workers “true public servants.”
At the start of summer each year, Gili went to Coney Island early in the morning to make sure that the beach was ready for swimmers and to check with the staff to see if they had all the tools they needed.
Gili could also often be found in the Brooklyn Forestry office, overseeing operations.
Gili said he is proud to have been part of a dedicated staff that worked tirelessly to get Brooklyn’s parks back in shape following natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy and major snowstorms.
“I think that our responses during emergencies are what I will remember most; snowstorms, the hurricanes, Sandy, 911 responses, cleaning up massive tree damage, flooding, etc., and working around the clock sleeping in my office until the job was done. I have received my fair share of recognition, awards and things, but the times when I have been able to see someone I hired be able to move up through the ranks are the most satisfying. Many of those people have approached me recently or written to thank me for the times I helped them, advised them, etc. And that human experience is so uplifting really,” Gili wrote.
Gili grew up in the Windsor Terrace-Kensington area. He went to Immaculate Heart of Mary School and graduated from Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School. He attended Staten Island Community College and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in forestry from Oregon State University.
What got him interested in working in parks?
“I wanted to work outside and it seemed like the best career choice to be able to do that,” he told the Eagle. “As a Brooklyn kid, I grew up enjoying our parks through sports mostly, but also as a boy scout and had an appreciation for the natural world.”
Gili has won numerous awards for his work. In 2013, he was presented with the W. Allison & Elizabeth Stubbs Davis Award. The award was founded by former Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis in honor of his parents.
In addition to his duties at the Parks Dept., Gili has also been active in his community for many years.
On Thanksgiving Day in 2007, Gili and his family established “U.S. Hockey Players Support Our Troops,” a charity to raise funds to support Gold Star families that lost loved ones in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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