Railroaders are used to adapting when things don’t go as planned.
But sometimes there are pleasant surprises, and President Mike Grace recently was able to enjoy a significant one in his career, which will reach 42 years in May.
When the Belt leader came to work April 12, he had no idea it would involve the dedication of Grace Park thanks to a project implemented on a strictly need-to-know basis. General Manager Percy Fields described the park, which will be located immediately north of the General Office Building parking lot, as a place where people can come together.
In a speech delivered from the back of a decommissioned BRC caboose that will be the centerpiece of Grace Park, Fields told a crowd of employees why he’d brought everyone together.
“One of the greatest things about Mike Grace is his ability and desire to bring all people together, something he has made a conscious effort to do since his arrival four years ago,” he said.
With its brick patio, Fields envisions Grace Park as a place where employees can share lunch on a pleasant day or even enjoy special events or barbecues. Plans include equipping the caboose so it can support such events.
He said that the park is intended to commemorate the illustrious career of a man he and many others consider one of the “great presidents” in the Belt’s 140-year history. Fields also noted it’s a career that will end soon, as Grace has announced his intentions to retire next year.
“You will forever be a part of the Belt,” Fields told Grace.
Grace Park also will soon become much greener once sod is planted where gravel is now. The project is just beginning.
Smiling broadly, with his wife, Lisa, beside him, Grace told the crowd that the Belt is “the best place he’s worked.” He’s previously said that leading the men and women of the Belt has been his “biggest professional accomplishment.”
Along with the man of honor, many in the crowd had no idea what the presentation was about until Fields began his remarks. He joked about how fun it was for him to know “what’s happening” when Grace did not.
Fields worked with Lisa in secret for weeks after conceiving Grace Park. It became necessary to inform other leadership employees to procure material and put the caboose in place; but beyond that, the project was top secret.
“I had to tell Mike, ‘don’t be here until 11:00, bring your wife, don’t ask me any questions, and trust me,’” he said.
Fields cited multiple achievements during President Mike Grace’s tenure, including several years of major capital investments that enhanced the overall infrastructure and construction of a state-of-the-art Command Center.
He credited Grace with “leading the BRC through the worst pandemic of our lifetime.” He added that while most companies in the industry “drastically” cut jobs, the Belt, “under Mike’s leadership,” added them.